Motivation Dynamics in Successful Fundraising Campaigns with Szu-chi Huang

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 “We found that our society has started to think about goals as a destination for many of the goals, especially campaign goals and pro-social goals; they are not destinations but journeys.”
– Dr. Szu-chi Huang

Episode #175


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

From the initial spark igniting a cause to the crescendo of community support, navigating the twists and turns of motivation paves the path toward fundraising triumph!

In today’s episode, Dr. Szu-chi Huang, an esteemed researcher in motivation science, delves into the intricacies of sustaining motivation throughout fundraising campaigns. Her research centers on the science of motivation, particularly exploring the temporal and social aspects of striving towards goals. She uses experiments to examine causal processes closely and field studies to test these findings in the real world, such as launching loyalty programs with companies and conducting intervention campaigns with nonprofit organizations like UNICEF.

Drawing parallels to the classic tale of the turtle and the hare, Dr. Huang elucidates the dynamic nature of motivation, emphasizing the need to embody the hare’s initial vigor and the turtle’s steadfast determination. She guides the listeners through the different stages of a fundraising campaign, from the initial burst of energy to the inevitable lull in the middle and the final push toward the finish line. Dr. Huang emphasizes the importance of tailored strategies for each stage, highlighting the need for positive reinforcement early on to fuel progress and connection-building measures to combat the mid-campaign slump.

Moreover, Dr. Huang addresses the tendency for fundraisers to withdraw during uncertainty or stagnation, cautioning against social information avoidance. Instead, she advocates for staying connected through benchmarking with peers or seeking inspiration from donors to reignite motivation and drive progress.

As the conversation unfolds, Dr. Huang explores the psychological nuances of goal pursuit, stressing the significance of reframing success as a continuous journey rather than a singular destination. They discuss the power of reflection and collective sharing in maintaining momentum, providing practical insights for fundraisers to implement in their campaign strategies.

Throughout the episode, Dr. Huang’s expertise shines as she offers actionable advice and illuminating perspectives on motivation in the fundraising landscape. She encourages the listeners to embrace the dynamic nature of their journey, leveraging diverse tools and resources to sustain motivation and drive meaningful change.



Szu-chi Huang


  • Support for this show is brought to you by a beloved nonprofit fundraising platform Givebutter. Our friends at Givebutter really understand what it takes to stay connected to your donors and how to use your CRM to do it. Their free fundraising platform empowers millions of changemakers to raise more, pay less, and give better every single day. To learn more about them, head on over to givebutter.com/mallory

  • If you haven’t already, please visit our new What the Fundraising community forum. Check it out and join the conversation at this link.
  • If you’re looking to raise more from the right funders, then you’ll want to check out my Power Partners Formula, a step-by-step approach to identifying the optimal partners for your organization. This free masterclass offers a great starting point

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Get to know Szu-chi Huang:

Szu-chi Huang is an associate professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Prior to her academic career, Huang worked at JWT Advertising Agency as an account manager. While at JWT, she managed global brands such as Unilever and Estee Lauder. Huang’s research focuses on motivation science, specifically the temporal and social dynamics of goal pursuit. Her research has been published in top marketing, management, and psychology journals, such as the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Her findings were featured in the popular press, including Harvard Business Review, Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, The Today Show, Men’s Health, Inside Marketing, and The Huffington Post. 

She has been awarded prestigious fellowships and awards, including the American Marketing Association’s Rising Star Award (2013), AMA-Sheth Distinguished Faculty Fellow (2017, 2022), Marketing Science Institute’s Young Scholar (2017), Marketing Science Institute Scholar, (2023), and Early Career Awards from the Society for Consumer Psychology (2020) and the Society for the Science of Motivation (2022). For her teaching contribution, Professor Huang was named one of Poets Quants’ Best 40 Under 40 Professors in 2017, and has received Stanford’s Amplifier Award (2020) and the prestigious Distinguished Teaching Award (2022).


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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.


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