Imagine sitting down at your desk one Monday morning and finding an untouched Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle waiting for you. A deadline looms. Although you have no time or intention to muddle through it, you do notice one clue for a 3-letter word: “NFL star Manning.”
But it’s a busy day and you feel no compulsion to attack the puzzle, so you simply smile, set the puzzle aside and move on with your day, without bothering to fill in the easy answer with “Eli.”
Now imagine the same scenario, but this time the entire puzzle has been completed—every answer to every clue —EXCEPT the 3-letter answer for “NFL Star Manning.”
If you feel compelled to pick up a pencil and complete the puzzle in this situation, despite the looming deadline, you have taken a very human action that human behavior scientists refer to as set completion.
“Finishing tasks that are incomplete gives us all a huge sense of satisfaction,” says Dr. Kiki Koutmeridou, Behavioral Science Strategist for DonorVoice. “Framing items as parts of a whole unit elicits a desire for completion and encourages effort and motivation, even in the absence of external rewards.”
This observation was imparted to me by an esteemed art historian, while sitting on a bench in Venice outside a cathedral. (No, I cannot remember which cathedral, other than it was chock full of Titians. But that’s not important.)
His point was that the denizens of medieval Europe were never so inclined to pony up their ducats than in the aftermath of the natural cataclysms that regularly plowed through their lives. The bubonic plague, for instance.
Some of Europe’s great cathedrals rose from the ashes of disaster, many of which were largely publicly funded. What drove this civic generosity? A sense of compassion for those displaced and devastated by the scourge of deadly disease?
My first boss, a respected if not legendary direct mail fundraiser in the political arena, once told me that it is far easier to raise money against a perceived evil than it is to raise it for a perceived good.
The recognized emotional “drivers” of effective direct response fundraising copy (attributed to Bob Hacker and Axel Andersson) are fear, greed, guilt, exclusivity, anger, salvation, and flattery. Most good copywriters, especially in fundraising, lean heavily on these emotions to drive response, and strive to place the donor at the center of the appeal.
The notion that donor action is more easily triggered against an evil suggests that, of these drivers, fear, guilt, and anger are frequently more useful tools for fundraisers to stoke the emotional fire in their readers’ hearts. Admittedly this sometimes paints a grim but motivating picture of the challenge.
The dynamics of successful direct response fundraising has been described as a three-legged stool: Strategy (analytics) drives Creative (tactics) drives Performance (data), from which Strategy generates analytics. That brings us back to the first leg of the stool.
Remove one leg from the relationship and the stool falls over. Simple.
But there is an inherent weakness in the simplicity of this construct. It leaves out the most integral component, namely the donor. More specific, his or her attitudinal and behavioral fabric.
After all, donors react emotionally and rationally — or not — to the strategically considered, tactically rendered communication sitting before them. That’s the reality behind “Performance,” and it directly influences the direction of subsequent strategies and tactics.
Perhaps better to visualize the fundraising dynamics as a wheel, or, because of the cyclical, concentric, and interdependent nature of its components, a mandala (to borrow from Eastern philosophies.)
When writing fundraising appeals we’re often so focused on media, donor segment, communication channel, content, and offer that can we overlook the 6 essential architectural markers on which any effective appeal is built.
Regardless of media, technology, format or market segment, successful appeals usually hit the following 6 markers:
Get them in. Envelope teaser, banner head, email subject line…your donors will never respond if they never see your message to begin with. And to do that you have to get their attention.
Start them on their journey in the right direction. There is always a directional flow in great appeals, a clear starting line, heading to a clear finish line. Do your donors know where to start or are there competing elements in your appeal that are dividing their attention and perhaps sending them to an ask before your persuasive content is fully communicated? Pay attention to sequencing, order of insertion in direct mail and intermediate landing pages in digital as the donor journeys from the starting blocks to the finish line.