It’s Time to Discard Emotional v. Rational

BlogPic_16-1-10For decades, the fundraising community has accepted the notion that the act of giving is an emotional behavior. Without doubt, there is solid scientific ground on which to build this foundational belief.

Fundraising campaigns are built around this assumption: “We have a serious problem we are trying to solve, and we believe we can move you to help us to solve it.”

And often the persuasion behind that emotional urge to give — the argument for giving to a specific organization, for instance — contains a very rational assumption: “Your gift to us represents your best investment for finding a solution.”

This duality inspires endless argument. What approach should we take when we speak to our donors in this campaign? Emotional or Rational? How much of each?

Accepting this notion at face value, however, is risky.

The Fundamental Error

Strategic fundraising campaigns run on the rails of an offer, driven by a singular case for giving. Often, fundraisers use the emotional/rational yardstick to create the messaging and positioning around the offer. But differentiating fundraising offers as emotional versus rational suggests that they exist in opposition to each other.

This, of course, is fundamentally illogical.

The opposite of emotional is unemotional. The opposite of rational is irrational.

Continue reading

Big Tent or Three-Legged Stool?

14-01-06_graphicSo much trade journalism in direct marketing fundraising today, including the blogosphere, deals with the collection, organization, and analysis of “big” donor data, specifically, behavioral data.

It seems everywhere we look, data frames the conversation, and understandably so. Some have called data the tent-pole of our industry, the single support upon which all successful donor acquisition, retention, and fundraising rely.

Sadly, there is comparatively little coverage on how to use that information, passionate odes to “storytelling” notwithstanding. Translating that data into messages (and yes, stories) that resonate with donors, and compel them to act, is a subject about which is hard to find articulation.

But without that articulation, hoping that data alone solves the problems is a little like selling someone on a new HD TV by describing only how the plasma display technology works, yet never showing him the picture quality it produces. Continue reading

The Creative Equation

homecard5_secondaryEngineers use a term called the angle of repose to describe the steepest slope at which an object remains at rest before gravity takes over and the object begins to fall downhill. Wallace Stegner used this notion in his wonderful novel of the same name to describe the movements of an American family.

Malcolm Gladwell uses the notion of a tipping point in his wonderful book of the same name, to define transformative social phenomena, and describes it as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point…”

Relative to nonprofit direct response marketing, it strikes me that it is the creative strategist’s job to use all the powerful tools in the fundraising toolbox to tease out a donor’s angle of repose or tipping point. Specifically, to understand the moment she decides to take action.  That action could be financial contribution, activism, Continue reading

Reciprocity. Closure. Thank you.

Has this ever ha13.11.18_graphicppened to you?

The Big Event (wedding, birthday, graduation, etc.) comes off to perfection and all involved enjoy themselves immensely. Warm emotions abound over the hospitality, the guests of honor, the hosts, the fellow guests, and so forth. You give a generous gift to celebrate and honor the stars and…

Nothing. No word of thanks. Not even a confirmation that the gift arrived.

Leaves a hole at the end of the experience, doesn’t it?

The importance of thanks goes beyond mere etiquette (although much can be said for Continue reading

The Danger of Automatic Creativity

Creating direct response fundraising is often dangerously simple. Because direct response fundraisers, as a group, so often rely on tried-and-true campaign concepts, creative specialists can be lulled into “automatic creativity.”

We’ve even coined automatic descriptors for these tried-and-true concepts: the Matching Grant, the Year-End E-Appeal, the Follow-Up, the Card Package, etc. Campaigns designed to create predictable, incremental RFM upticks.

It’s easy, in the middle of crunch time, to fall into mechanical creative habits in order to get the project(s) out the door. Furthermore, the mantra of “best practice,” overlaid on building incremental improvements to successful tests, argues against rethinking the tried-and-true.

It should be no surprise, then, that we’ve created controls that exhibit only nominal performance improvements, if at all.

Still, we hang onto these ubiquitous solutions until they cease to solve much of anything anymore. That’s because we have created donors that have wearied of the very techniques we leaned on, in the first place, to acquire and retain them. And these days, in a wildly competitive nonprofit landscape, with a dizzying array of channels in which to receive messages, controls wear out at an alarming rate.

Familiarity breeds contempt, never more so than in direct response fundraising. It’s a multi-culprit failure in marketing groupthink, the responsibility for which shared by all on the development team.

One of the culprits is automatic creativity. Automatic creativity starts with a technique, not the donor. And that’s dangerous.

Here’s why.

When we write and design to meet page length and format requirement, we forget to write and design messaging that resonates with the donor. When the message we send must be wrapped around an organizational brand asset first, we de-emphasize the important role the donor has in the solution. When we focus on the action the donor must take, we necessarily understate the benefit the donor will receive, even when that benefit is simply the feeling of satisfaction that generosity brings to the human spirit.

Beware automatic creativity, even in the face of a tried-and-true technique and a pressing deadline. Successful fundraising always starts with the donor.