What good is guilt?

Guilt is one of the most powerful of human motivators; it can move people to incredible acts of self-transformation and prompts all kinds of good deeds.


But it’s tough to use effectively in fundraising, because there are hardly any meaningful ways to evoke guilt.


A common attempt at guilt goes something like this: Only one in a hundred Americans cares enough about the tragedy in Darfur to give even a small donation to ease the suffering!


Problem is, your donors and prospects are not the ones who should feel guilty. They’re already giving. They’re already involved and doing the right thing. When you aim that attempt at guilt at them, you’re like the professor who scolds the students in a sparsely attended class: Notice that the ones you’re berating are the ones who showed up.


There are plenty of others who may have something to feel guilty about. They aren’t doing their share. They aren’t paying attention. But your messages don’t reach them. They aren’t on the lists. And chances are, they have defensive mechanisms against feeling guilty; otherwise they’d feel rotten about themselves.


So can you reach those who aren’t doing their share and shame them into becoming better people? It’s tough. All you have are websites, PSAs, direct mail, and other semi-targeted message platforms. These are not too likely to break through a hardened conscience.


That’s why guilt is a messy motivator.


Comments

6 responses to “What good is guilt?”

  1. While we are not related there must be something about the Brooks name! As one who works exclusively with Christian organizations I can tell you that far too often guilt is the main tool used at least by pastors. I call it the Stick and Carrot approach. You can perhaps for a short time motivate someone with guilt but in the end it will back fire on you. I would much rather get someone to passionately support my cause rather than begrudgingly support it. If guilt works at all, and I agree it does not, it certainly does not produce passionate supporters who in turn convince others to give as well. I hope this post makes those that use guilt feel guilty!

  2. While we are not related there must be something about the Brooks name! As one who works exclusively with Christian organizations I can tell you that far too often guilt is the main tool used at least by pastors. I call it the Stick and Carrot approach. You can perhaps for a short time motivate someone with guilt but in the end it will back fire on you. I would much rather get someone to passionately support my cause rather than begrudgingly support it. If guilt works at all, and I agree it does not, it certainly does not produce passionate supporters who in turn convince others to give as well. I hope this post makes those that use guilt feel guilty!

  3. Guilt has been used forever, yet it remains only one motivator for giving. There are several others as well. The challenge is knowing which motivators work with which donors and prospects. Anyone who can solve this one will be a hero. 🙂

  4. Guilt has been used forever, yet it remains only one motivator for giving. There are several others as well. The challenge is knowing which motivators work with which donors and prospects. Anyone who can solve this one will be a hero. 🙂

  5. Jim McLachlan Avatar
    Jim McLachlan

    Donor-CENTERED fundraising and communication by definition cannot effectively use guilt. Unfortunately organization centered fundraising and communication creates a culture and justification where the organization is primary instead of its supporters. Then it becomes any means are necessary. These organizations become a lot like the government.

  6. Jim McLachlan Avatar
    Jim McLachlan

    Donor-CENTERED fundraising and communication by definition cannot effectively use guilt. Unfortunately organization centered fundraising and communication creates a culture and justification where the organization is primary instead of its supporters. Then it becomes any means are necessary. These organizations become a lot like the government.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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