Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt: The Fogg Behaviorial Model and Digital Charities

the Fogg Behaviour Model

I’ve been reading recently about the very interesting Fogg Behavior Model, which identifies the three elements that are required to get someone to take an action:

Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt

This was developed by BJ Fogg of Stanford’s Behavior Design Lab, and he defines it thus: “three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.”

There’s a nifty graph that explains it, because of course there is:

So what does it all mean?

Motivation = there isn’t really a simpler way to explain it than the word motivation! People must feel motivated to take your action. They may be motivated by sensation, anticipation or by wanting to belong.

Ability = the ease of taking the action.  Also described as simplicity. Includes the complexity of the action, as well as factors like money, time, physical effort.

Prompt = the cue, trigger, call to action, request

How does this model apply to online actions for charities?

This model really clarifies why so many online actions for charities don’t work – it’s because they’re missing one or sometimes more of the core components. A few examples that I’ve encountered myself:

  • I’m currently getting hammered with ads on Facebook from a development charity, asking me to donate to a specific emergency appeal. I don’t know anything about this crisis, and I never see their posts in my news feed even though I follow their page – so this ask is missing the motivation piece. They’ve probably targeted me based on my interest in charitable causes, but what they’re not taking into account is that people in this demographic are bombarded with charity asks and really need something more to make a particular cause stand out. Their targets need motivation to choose this cause over another, or over simply spending their spare cash on a takeaway instead.
  • A social enterprise has a family event on during the summer that really appealed to me. When I went to their website to book, the interface was so confusing that I gave up after trying a few times. I was motivated, but the ability piece stopped me from taking the action.
  • I heard a while back about a large charity purchasing a cold email list* of 100k names and sending them a fundraising appeal. It resulted in – brace yourself, this is bad – one single donation. One.  It shouldn’t be surprising that this audience, who had never asked to hear from this charity, didn’t just hand over their money the first time they were asked.  This was all prompt, and no motivation

*NB: never do this. Buying cold email lists is a really bad idea.

So how can we put it into practice?

There are steps you can take to make sure your digital communications (whether for fundraising, behaviour change or campaigning) have all the required elements. Some of them are fairly easy and quick to implement.


  • Regularly share storytelling about your impact via social media and email, so that your cause is fresh in people’s minds and they feel the necessary emotional connection to it. Storytelling, not asks!
  • For online campaigns, send regular campaign updates, letting them know how close you are to achieving your target – this makes people feel energised and included.


  • Keep all forms as stripped back as possible – more reading here about how form design can affect conversion rates
  • Use mobile friendly, fast loading donation forms
  • Very simple email signup forms – don’t ask for a ton of data at the first entry point
  • Use Facebook Fundraising – I’m hearing that Facebook Fundraising tools are raising a higher average gift than the standalone online donation platforms, and this doesn’t surprise me: it’s a platform that people are already extremely comfortable with, and they keep improving the donation process. Meeting people where they already are is very powerful.


My feeling is that many charities put too many prompts in the wrong places, and neglect areas where prompts can work really well. Think about where you can place a prompt so that it lines up with motivation:

  • An email welcome journey that triggers as soon as someone signs up to your list, and that contains a donation ask a few emails in – it’s so important to respond positively as soon as someone shows an interest in your cause
  • A donation button on the thank you page after someone has signed a petition
  • Facebook Fundraising again – Facebook’s prompts are so good that Fogg specifically mentions them.  If someone starts making a donation to a friend’s fundraiser on Facebook and forgets to complete it, Facebook will send them multiple reminders to finish. 
  • For online campaigns, offer a series of varied but connected actions to maintain supporters’ motivation over time. Eg, sign the petition, now sign the open letter, now tweet using the hashtag, now share this video, now call your local politician, etc.

More reading

Hat tip to Adrian O’Flynn of Get Your Stories Straight for introducing me to this.

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