Catnip for donors: Why you can’t manipulate them into giving

While working on the title of my first book (the one that ended up The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, one of the ideas that came up in brainstorming was this: Catnip for Donors.

It was almost good. But I hated that sense that we can do things that will force donors to behave in not-quite-normal ways — the way cats act with catnip.

Fundraising doesn’t work like that. That would be unethical. Anyway, it doesn’t work. There are no sleezy techniques that cause donors to act against their better judgment.

The Neuromarketing blog backs me up on that, at Manipulation vs. Customer Focus, Dilbert-style.

(The Dilbert reference is to a recent cartoon where Dilbert’s boss asks if there are psychological tricks they can employ that will get people to buy their products.)

Here’s the important point:

… pushing the right emotional buttons or using some technique out of Persuasion Psych 101 can improve the response to an ad or campaign. But, those gains will be short lived if the product doesn’t deliver what is expected or if it’s not right for the customer.

As fundraisers, we should be well-informed about the psychology of our donors. We should know what’s persuasive to them.

But none of that is catnip. That’s just being relevant.

If you don’t follow up with a great donor experience, where you promptly and powerfully thank them, then report back on the power of their giving, and ask frequently enough that they don’t forget your cause — it doesn’t matter what you did in the first place to get a gift.

They’ll never give again, anyway. And you’ll join the sad army of low-retention fundraisers who can never quite keep the bucket full.

Reality matters more than tricks. And tricks don’t really work. Relationships are the real magic.


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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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