Emotion and Your Donors

Making an emotional connection with your donor is critical to your fundraising success. 

  DENNIS HOFFMAN, CEO   ENGAGE USA

DENNIS HOFFMAN, CEO
ENGAGE USA

It can also be the hardest thing to do.

If you watch TV to wind down before bed, you've probably seen those infomercials for charities providing food and medicine to poor children overseas.

Yet despite seeing and hearing about the awful conditions these children live in -- despite the very small donation needed to help -- most people are able to switch off the screen and sleep.

But how can you sleep at night knowing that someone needs your help?  Why don't we feel compelled to give each and every time?

One reason could be that most people are preoccupied with their own lives -- their own daily struggles and anxieties.  Their needs take priority.

Another could be avoidance.  People who become emotionally involved in every tragic news story, every friend's problem, and in every noble cause can spread themselves thin enough to snap.  So, we think, “it's just something on television,” “blown out of proportion,” “there are tons of people helping so I don't matter “-- anything we can think to detach ourselves from feeling emotionally exhausted.

That person flipping through channels at night is just like your donors -- just one person dealing with her own stresses who can only do so much to help -- and one person who likes to get sleep at night.  Like the commercial, your appeals have to cut through the noise of her everyday life -- and one of the best ways to do that is by making a powerful emotional plea that your donor can’t ignore.

A 2007 study by Deborah Small, professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, found potential donors are far more likely to respond to appeals to the heart over appeals to the head. 

Meaning no matter how much rational data you use to convince your donors to give, if you don't connect with them emotionally, you probably won't win them over.

In fact, though we tend to view decision-making based on emotion to be unstable or erratic, neuroscience has discovered not only are emotions the strongest factor in the choices we make, but without emotion, we’d be incapable of making any decisions at all.

Behavioral economist, Dan Hill, recommends fundraising appeals focus on six core emotions that motivate donors to give:

Happiness - With your help today, we will be able to provide clean and life-saving drinking water for an entire village.

Surprise - Despite being the 9th richest country on Earth, a staggering 42.2 MILLION people live in hunger in the United States right now.

Anger - Millions of young girls around the world are prevented from going to school due to poverty, sexual harassment, and traditional gender roles barring them from education.

Disgust - 3,646 human trafficking cases have been reported in the United States just this year -- over 1,100 cases involved children.

Sadness - Last year, 438,000 people died after contracting malaria.  Pregnant women and small children are at highest risk.

Fear - Without your support, your local animal shelter won’t be able to provide food, medicine, and shelter for homeless and injured animals.

Present your donors with photos, stories, and real people experiencing situations that your donor will see himself in and stir the very same emotions that cause your donor to take action in his own life.  Give him the name and face of someone just like him -- someone he can help right this minute.

You can have the most sympathetic and human cause, but if you aren’t making strong emotional bonds between your donors and your cause, your fundraising efforts will fall on deaf ears.