Nonprofit Fundraising vs Nonprofit Brand: The Great Divide

blog_pic_2-15-16_squareMy 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.

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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.

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Seth Godin on the Decision to Give

13.11.18_graphicIn a thoughtful and typically articulate blog post, Seth Godin posits questions that donors should ask themselves when choosing to support a charity. They include a variety of specific, non-specific, emotional and rational topic points. In general, they describe a general decision tree for donor giving, whether conscious or unconscious.

Any nonprofit specialist who is concerned with donor acquisition, retention and engagement, would do well to post this list as a daily reminder that donor-centric engagement, not organization-centric promotion, lies at the heart of all we do.

Perhaps Godin’s most enlightening donor self-question is this:  What story do you tell yourself about you and your giving?

Creative strategists must never forget that prospects and donors tell a “giving story,” in which they, not their favored nonprofit organizations, are protagonists. The nonprofit’s achievements that their support helps to accomplish speak to a need in their own hearts, and do not in any way relate to an organizational vision or mission statement.

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 Story Behind “Story”

Photo credit: The Mark Twain House & Museum

Photo credit: The Mark Twain House & Museum

It seems like everywhere one looks theses days, somebody is talking about the value of “Story” in nonprofit fundraising, and deservedly so. Stories are a fundamental way humans can connect to ideas. We’re hard-wired to respond to a “good story well-told,” as Mark Twain described it.

Direct response fundraisers know that stories can be a compelling and sometimes overlooked mechanism for delivering nonprofit mission to market.

I am a big believer in using stories for fundraising, especially stories with an arc. Stories in which the protagonist experiences a change, bludgeoned by Evil in the opening (cancer, poverty, hunger, injustice, etc.), and ultimately saved by Good (donors who support the Charity of Salvation) at the end. Heck, I even wrote an article about the value of the Arc of the Fundraising Story several Continue reading