To Raise Money, You Have to Appeal to People’s Emotions

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Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is recognized internationally as an expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates. Visit her website here.

Fund development seems simple enough. One brain (yours) tries to convince another brain (the prospect’s) to take action and make a gift.

But there is a catch. Actually several catches. But today we’ll focus on one only: emotions.

On the fundraiser’s end—where the message originates—respect for rationality is preeminent.

Instinct and training tell us to argue our case logically. Document the facts. Build toward some undeniable truth that we see and hope the prospect will see, too. We just assume that when presented with the right information, prospects simply must be persuaded. And then the money flows in.

Maybe that was true for Spock in Star Trek. But it’s not true otherwise. Logic doesn’t actually work. Just take a look at voting and dieting and, and . . . Just read Shankar Vedantam’s wonderful book The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives.

The fact is, facts don’t rule. Read Chris Mooney’s article “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science,” in the May/June 2011 issue of Mother Jones magazine. (Hey, it’s a fact-free nation we live in – and that can be pretty scary.)

The fact is, emotions rule. Emotion dominates our decision-making. Reason is just a bit player. Neurologist and author Donald B. Calne tells us, “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions.” Or, as psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung said, “There can be no transforming . . . of apathy into movement without emotion.”

Yes indeed, emotions trigger our decisions. After that trigger, we might quickly rationalize. But we start with emotions. That’s what neuroscience and psychology prove.

Psychologist W. Gerrod Parrott identifies 135 emotions. He divides them into primary, secondary, and tertiary. You’ll find the list on the Internet and also in Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships.

But who can remember 135 emotions? I really like the seven emotional triggers identified (through testing!) by direct mail copywriters:

  • Anger (“This is wrong! Do something!”)
  • Exclusivity (“Me? You want me to join your circle of friends?”)
  • Fear (“This scares me. Is the problem hopeless?”)
  • Flattery (“You’re absolutely right. I am one in a thousand. I’m special.”)
  • Greed (“You want to give me something? Bring it on!”)
  • Guilt (“Wish I hadn’t done that. Please help me feel better.”)
  • Salvation (There’s hope for me.”)

Tom Ahern talks about emotional twinsets: Raise the problem; be the solution. There are negative-leaning emotions (anger, sadness, fear). There are positive-leaning emotions (caring, joy, hope). People seek relief from the negative. They desire the positive.

And you, your nonprofit/NGO can provide that relief. By giving through your organization, the donor achieves his or her desires, fulfills his or her aspirations. Remember, the donor is not giving to your organization but rather through your organization.

So it’s quite simple, actually. Use emotions. Just do it. Don’t get sidetracked by bosses and boards who think logical rationality is some panacea. Thanks to amazing new imaging technologies, neuroscientists can see how it works inside your brain—and inside mine, too.

Read future columns for specific stories. And read lots of details in Keep Your Donors.

  • Marlene Ward

    Unless we are dead or in a coma we have strong emotions all the time.

    THINK, FEEL, BEHAVE in everything we do.