Unraveling Development: Your Donors’ Emotional Needs

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Top priority: Pay attention to the emotional needs of your donors.

Emotions are the decision-makers. Emotions trigger your decision about where to give gifts and whether to eat chicken or steak for dinner.

Neuroscience (thanks to MRIs) and psychological research prove it. Just ask Drs. Antoine Bechara and Dr. Antonio Damasio.

The direct mail industry, which spends millions on research, has identified seven emotions that move mountains of cash larger than the Himalayas. Here they are.

  • Anger (“This is wrong! Do something!”)
  • Exclusivity (“Me? You want me to join your special group of donors?”)
  • Flattery (“You’re absolutely right. I am special because I keep giving to you.”)
  • Greed (“I want more theatre in the community and giving to you makes sure great theatre stays.”)
  • Guilt (“I know polar bears are drowning because of my car and my poor recycling skills. I’ll feel better when I give to that environmental group.”)
  • Salvation (“My gifts make change and make the world a better place.”)

Let me illustrate these emotions for you.

In 2001, I founded the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island (WFRI). WFRI works to level the playing field for women and girls. Why did I found the Women’s Fund?

Because I’m angry that social injustice is a dominant force in the United States. Women are still paid less than men – for the same work. Women represent more than 50 percent of the U.S. population and a paltry portion of elected officials. In fact, the U.S. ranks 82nd in the world for the number of women in the national legislature, e.g., the U.S. Congress.

I’m afraid of living in a community and world where so many people – women and people of color and gays and lesbians and those who are less affluent – are excluded.. I feel guilty because while I’m disadvantaged as a woman, I am a well-educated, heterosexual, white, affluent woman. I win on all counts except gender.

I’m flattered to be part of the exclusive group of women and men who fight for social justice in Rhode Island. I’m proud to be the founder of the Women’s Fund. And I believe that my work in philanthropy – both as a volunteer and a professional – is the reason why I exist. My passion for philanthropy is my salvation.

Think about one of your most meaningful gifts. What feelings prompted you to give? Talk with your donors. Ask them why they give and you’ll hear their interests and feelings.

Now take a look at your solicitation letters and your newsletters and all of your materials. Are the emotions there? If not, add some heart.

It’s your job to stroke the emotions of your donors and prospects. You trigger their emotions through the stories you tell and the accomplishments you produce.

Learn more in Tom Ahern’s books and free e-news.