Contact us

How behavioural science can support charities to reduce running costs, navigate challenges and promote positive social change 

How behavioural science can support charities to reduce running costs, navigate challenges and promote positive social change 

Behavioural science can be a powerful tool for charities to understand and positively influence the behaviours of teams, supporters, volunteers, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders. This in turn can improve wellbeing, communications, impact and sustainable working practices. In recent years, we’ve had the absolute pleasure of workshopping with Barnardos on a framework for internal communications, co-creating mental resilience training course with Mind, re-designing fundraising packs with British Heart Foundation, connecting the public with urban plant life to boost wellbeing with Kew and reducing the demand of extreme breeding with RSPCA

Reporting in 2022 and 2023, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) revealed more than 50% of the UK’s charities are digging into reserves, half fear they won’t survive the cost-of-living crisis, and only 49% think they have enough funds to meet current demand.

According to a Pro Bono Economics survey, energy costs is charities’ third biggest worry for charities after income with 55% digging into reserves to pay fuel bills.

Amidst the rising trend of online activity, Charities Aid Foundation reports that charities are currently in the process of assessing the appropriate equilibrium between digital engagement and face-to-face interactions. There remains a lack of comprehensive understanding regarding the relationship between in-person contact and its impact on brand value, alongside potential implications of heightened digital participation on brand perception.

Responding to rising demands, here are ten ways in which behavioural science can support charities:

1. Supporter Behaviour: Behavioural science can help charities understand the psychological factors that influence supporter decision-making. By applying principles from behavioural economics, charities can design fundraising campaigns that leverage behavioural insights to increase engagement rates, support and improve retention.

2. Nudging for Good: Charities can use nudges—subtle changes in the way choices are presented—to encourage desired behaviours among supporters and frontline teams. Nudges can also be used to promote volunteering, advocacy, and other forms of support.

3. Impact Communication: Behavioural science can inform how charities communicate their impact to donors and the public. By adopting more effective lived experience storytelling strategies, social proof, and concrete examples, charities can make their impact more tangible and compelling, leading to increased support and engagement.

4. Behavioural Insights for Beneficiaries: Charities can apply behavioural science principles to design programs and interventions that effectively support their beneficiaries. This might include interventions to encourage healthy behaviours, financial literacy, educational attainment, or other positive outcomes.

5. Volunteer Engagement: Understanding the motivations and barriers to volunteering can help charities recruit and retain volunteers more effectively. Behavioural science can inform strategies to enhance volunteer engagement, satisfaction, and commitment.

6. Decision-Making Behaviours: Charities often face complex decisions about resource allocation, program design, and strategy. Behavioural science can provide insights into decision-making biases and heuristics that may affect these processes, helping charities make more informed and effective choices.

7. Collaboration and Partnerships: Behavioural science can facilitate collaboration and partnerships between charities, government agencies, academic institutions, and other stakeholders. By sharing insights and best practices, organizations can amplify their impact and address complex social challenges more effectively.

8. Improving Employee Retention and Reducing Recruitment Costs: Behavioural science can support charities to create culture shift interventions and better align teams and performance with brand values and culture. By identifying and addressing underlying factors, creative behaviour change can influence employee satisfaction, engagement, and commitment within an organisation.

9. Embracing New Technologies and Improving Tech Literacy: Some charities are experiencing inconsistencies and knowledge gaps when it comes to adopting new technologies, intranet systems, systems for reporting, training and team development. Behaviour change interventions can help leverage cognitive biases and motivational factors to enhance learning, adoption, and mastery of digital skills. 

10. Reducing Running Costs: Behavioural science and sustainability interventions can help charities reduce running costs by identifying opportunities to optimise resource usage, minimise waste, and promote eco-friendly practices within the organisation. By understanding the behavioural factors that influence energy consumption, resource utilisation, and operational efficiency, charities can implement targeted interventions such as energy-saving initiatives, waste reduction initiatives, and sustainable procurement practices. Additionally, behavioural science can inform strategies to encourage staff and volunteers to adopt cost-saving behaviours, such as turning off lights and equipment when not in use, using reusable materials, and choosing environmentally friendly alternatives. By integrating behavioural science principles into sustainability initiatives, charities can achieve significant cost savings while also advancing their environmental and social responsibility goals.

Overall, behavioural science offers charities a systematic and evidence-based approach to understanding human behaviour and designing interventions that promote positive social change and increase brand value. By leveraging insights from psychology, economics, and related fields, charities can enhance their effectiveness, efficiency, and impact in pursuing their social impact missions.

Would you like to discuss how behavioural science can support your charity to overcome the challenges you are facing?

Our Creative Behaviour Change team will be happy to consult and answer any questions you have. Contact us or drop us an email

Contact us

Magpie Meets… Women’s Health Matters

Magpie Meets… Women’s Health Matters

Magpie Meets is a unique exchange programme which exists to fulfil Magpie’s volunteering time and professional development needs through exchanges with a diverse range of change-making organisations.

Participants of the programme are invited to join Magpie to solve a behaviour change communications challenge using behavioural science, creativity and collaboration. The process involves an in-depth briefing, a cultural immersion activity and an exchange workshop which encourages Magpie to transfer knowledge, understand change-making leadership at multiple levels and bring creative and academic practices to problem solving.

Between January and February, Magpie worked with Women’s Health Matters, a Leeds based charity that exists to support women and girls to live safe and healthy lives. Since 1987, the organisation has provided holistic, trauma-informed services for women and girls who are socially, economically, or politically marginalised. This includes, but is not limited to, those affected by domestic abuse, those whose children live elsewhere, those accessing maternity services, women seeking asylum, women with disabilities, and women and their children experiencing trauma.

Last year, the charity worked with 2517 women & girls across 27 projects. Provided intensive support to 1214 women & girls, lighter touch support to 1303 women & girls, and supported 303 children. They delivered 869 group sessions and 1728 one-to-one sessions. 

The team are a positive force in Leeds and Yorkshire, they work tirelessly to increase confidence, wellbeing and provide transformational support. For a relatively small team, their impact is huge. Access to more funding and new partnerships are vital to their work so do get in touch if you can offer your support.

Magpie Meets brief

CEO, Rachel Kelly, set Magpie the following creative behaviour change challenge:

How, in a time-poor and resource-stretched organisation, can we grow our reputation?

Following this, a behaviour change exchange programme was designed to co-create an approach for cultural change with those responsible for delivery, resulting in a behaviour change communications blueprint and journey map to guide the organisation on this programme of work.

Meeting the team

‘Magpie Meets… Women’s Health Matters’ began with an initial immersion session to understand the challenge from different perspectives and to dig deeper. During this seesion, Magpie was able to gain a more rounded understanding of Women’s Health Matters vision for change and understand the practicalities of the challenge.

For every Magpie Meets programme, a hand-picked project team is selected with relevant skills matched to the challenge set by the beneficiary. The team for this exchange included Co-founder Ged Savva, Campaign Consultant – Louise Hallworth and Researcher – Mierla Neto.

Exchange day

In January, the Magpie Meets project team arrived at Women’s Health Matters HQ in Leeds for a visionary day of co-creation.

In attendance were five representatives from across the charity, each representing different areas of the organisation. The passion and belief alignment of the team at Women’s Health Matters was truly awe-inspiring, it was clear the vision and mission of the organisation was being lived and realised by all. 

It was delightful to connect with Women’s Health Matters at Magpie Meets, delving into behavioural change techniques and communication strategies for purposeful actions and fostering a reputation reflecting meaningful change. Huge thank you to the inspiring women at Women’s Health Matters for sharing their passion and expertise with us.

Mirela Neto, Magpie Researcher

The primary resource was the ‘co-creation canvas’ which would act as a one-page strategy for taking the desired change forward beyond the session, enabling the team to focus the outcomes of the sessions as well as actionable phases of work.


Together, Magpie and Women’s Health Matters defined the behavioural outcomes the charity aims to achieve through their project. 

12 possible outcomes were explored and whittled down to one clear behaviour and culture shift change goal. This is:

Making space for proactive thinking to help grow reputation and increase funds.

Using a COM-B analysis for the challenge, we uncovered the capabilities, opportunities and motivations for change. The most prominent barriers for this culture shift included:

The most prominent facilitators for this culture shift included:

The sessions resulted in a blueprint strategic approach, giving the organisation focus and an outline plan for taking change forward. This included three potential frameworks for change including an open framework, a cumulative change framework and a more creative framework to align with the creative and tenacious culture at Women’s Health Matters.

I will take away how on the same page we are. That is a rewarding outcome from this session.


Understanding that steppingstones can work. It doesn’t need to be everything right away. Small changes can take us to a better place.


It’s rewarding to have space and time for ideas.


I’m really excited and inspired to action these ideas.


The time to do this together as a team is my takeaway.


Next steps

A creative behaviour change report has been provided to Women’s Health Matters and a follow-up consultation is taking place in March to further the organisation with advice around the practicalities of adopting the recommendations. 


Magpie is currently planning the calendar of Magpie Meets activity. If you would like to be considered as a beneficiary for our next Magpie Meets programme, please get in touch and a member of the Magpie team will be in contact.

The Developing Field of Behavioural Science

The Developing Field of Behavioural Science

Our Director of Behavioural Insights, Dr Grainne Dickerson, discusses the rise of Behavioural Science and how Magpie uses it to create happier and healthier communities.

What is behavioural science?

Behavioural science refers to the disciplines of psychology, behavioural economics, sociology and anthropology to understand, explain and predict behaviour. These fields of science are driven by academia and the rigorous research produced by behavioural scientists who are trained to the highest standards in research methods in their fields. Whilst the research conducted has potential to improve health outcomes for the population, there have been many missed opportunities to apply the findings of robust research in real world settings, however, this is changing.

What is the history of behavioural science?

Behavioural science started gaining popularity when the Cameron-Clegg coalition government in 2010 set up a nudge unit, inspired by the book Nudge by Thaler and Sustein (2009).

It was in the same year that I achieved my dream of becoming a behavioural scientist when I qualified as a Health Psychologist. Reading the book, Nudge and hearing about the nudge unit I realised I had been trained in all the same stuff! I then found myself determined to utilise my learning and skills within Public Health where I had been working.

“My mantra at the time was … if they can have a nudge unit in the government, they could and should have something similar in the NHS and local authorities, for they are also in the business of changing public behaviour.”

For several years after that I was actively championing behavioural science within Public Health in order to meld together the science and art of protecting the health of the public via Public Health work with the psychological processes in health, illness and healthcare through Health Psychology work. I had fantastic support at times in the various behavioural science and public health roles I worked in, and at other times I faced challenges, and this was because behavioural science wasn’t as widely valued back then. Fast forward to now, 12 years later in a world blighted by COVID-19, there’s been a proliferation in behavioural science…

Where is behavioural science now?

There has been a steady increase in the number of behavioural science teams and roles within the public sector who can apply rigorous scientific approaches to real world settings. This development reflects the recognition that behavioural sciences provide the opportunity to improve outcomes in the many areas of the public sector that are seeking to influence and change behaviour. Organisations with behavioural science teams include the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, the UK Health Security Agency, the NHS, the Department for Transport and some local authorities such as Hertfordshire County Council.

There is a collective moving away from using ‘good ideas’ and a reliance on assumptions to utilising science based approaches to understanding target audiences, target behaviours and barriers and enablers that interventions need to address in order to enhance the health and wellbeing of population groups.

Here is a selection of highlights that have contributed to the growth of behavioural science during the last 12 years:

Behavioural science at Magpie:

At Magpie we also adopt a transdisciplinary approach to bring our behaviour change campaigns and interventions to fruition whilst championing unheard voices.  We bring together a combination of different skills and perspectives that combine to add the value that no single approach would achieve on its own. Working in this way creates more impact, but is also more rewarding and fun!  We combine subject matter expertise from our clients and our team with behavioural sciences, community engagement and creativity.

What next for behavioural science?

You could say there is a democratisation of behavioural science; moving away from the mysterious  ‘nudge unit’ in central government and the purely academic field to a more accessible and transparent approach.

Behavioural science is now a respected part of many teams, however there is more that could be done to further enhance the contribution of behavioural science across the country, including:

Written by Dr Grainne Dickerson

(Director of Behavioural Insights and Chair Elect Behavioural Science and Public Health Network)

Back to top