Is emotion dishonest in fundraising?

Is there someone on your organization’s staff (or board) who wants you to turn down the emotional content of your fundraising because they believe emotion is dishonest or manipulative?

Do they tell you to “stick with the facts” because making the rational case with facts and numbers is the only honorable way to motivate people to donate?

Apparently that person has never fallen in love, held a baby, or watched a sunset.

Because those things — and hundreds of other experiences like them — teach us that emotional information is meaningful. In some ways, it’s a lot more meaningful than statistics and facts.

You can lie and manipulate with statistics just as well as you can with emotions. It’s your duty to tell the truth in any situation, and always to treat your donors with respect.

But you can’t raise funds effectively with statistics. Because that’s not how the human brain processes stuff. And assuming your donors will respond to a message that doesn’t give them goosebumps, or tears, or an elevated heartbeat … that’s just unrealistic.

So be as emotional as you can teach yourself to be when you raise funds. It’s the honest way to work.


Comments

6 responses to “Is emotion dishonest in fundraising?”

  1. There’s an interesting study on this very thing at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2421943.
    In a nutshell, adding data about program effectiveness and statistics suppressed response rates among donors under $100 (as a distraction from the emotion of the piece).
    So for people who want to educate donors into giving, there is a small subset of people for whom that works. For everyone else, however, gifts are made with the heart, not the head. There’s a more thorough summary of the study here: http://directtodonor.com/2015/12/31/education-versus-emotion-in-direct-marketing-appeals/

  2. There’s an interesting study on this very thing at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2421943.
    In a nutshell, adding data about program effectiveness and statistics suppressed response rates among donors under $100 (as a distraction from the emotion of the piece).
    So for people who want to educate donors into giving, there is a small subset of people for whom that works. For everyone else, however, gifts are made with the heart, not the head. There’s a more thorough summary of the study here: http://directtodonor.com/2015/12/31/education-versus-emotion-in-direct-marketing-appeals/

  3. I think you paint a false picture – of course emotion is the bedrock of everything we do. Anybody unsure of that really shouldn’t be trying to communicate.
    BUT it’s quite understandable for a trustee, CEO etc to question the appropriateness and effectiveness of different types of emotion. Emotion can take many forms – from pity to empathy, from guilt to anger. It’s not enough to say ’emotion works’ – it’s vital to understand what emotions you’re creating as some will turn people away, some will make readers feel manipulated, some will create a feeling that will last a lifetime.
    Given that the sector’s main communication territory is emotion, I’m constantly amazed at how little knowledge & discussion there is on the nature of different emotions.

  4. I think you paint a false picture – of course emotion is the bedrock of everything we do. Anybody unsure of that really shouldn’t be trying to communicate.
    BUT it’s quite understandable for a trustee, CEO etc to question the appropriateness and effectiveness of different types of emotion. Emotion can take many forms – from pity to empathy, from guilt to anger. It’s not enough to say ’emotion works’ – it’s vital to understand what emotions you’re creating as some will turn people away, some will make readers feel manipulated, some will create a feeling that will last a lifetime.
    Given that the sector’s main communication territory is emotion, I’m constantly amazed at how little knowledge & discussion there is on the nature of different emotions.

  5. Intriguing post. Definitely important issue. I agree with Nick although have a feeling Jeff means board members who want to persuade donors with information rather than get into the messy work of crafting public perception (as if data doesn’t do that too!). That often means debating how the kinds of emotion we elicit from donors reflect back on the issue we are working to address (i.e. Does an photo of someone who is homeless that inspires outrage in a donor represent the homeless person in an undignified way? Is there a way for it not to?)
    Btw just read this baffling statement about emotions in charity communications by Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO), cited over at The Philantropist.
    “All advocacy activities should be based on a position that is well-reasoned and not based on information that is false, inaccurate or misleading. In addition, while materials can have some emotional content, they cannot primarily appeal to emotions.”
    I don’t know about you, but graphs that show major inequality in developed countries make me very upset…
    http://thephilanthropist.ca/2016/02/the-moral-imperative-for-policy-advocacy/

  6. Intriguing post. Definitely important issue. I agree with Nick although have a feeling Jeff means board members who want to persuade donors with information rather than get into the messy work of crafting public perception (as if data doesn’t do that too!). That often means debating how the kinds of emotion we elicit from donors reflect back on the issue we are working to address (i.e. Does an photo of someone who is homeless that inspires outrage in a donor represent the homeless person in an undignified way? Is there a way for it not to?)
    Btw just read this baffling statement about emotions in charity communications by Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO), cited over at The Philantropist.
    “All advocacy activities should be based on a position that is well-reasoned and not based on information that is false, inaccurate or misleading. In addition, while materials can have some emotional content, they cannot primarily appeal to emotions.”
    I don’t know about you, but graphs that show major inequality in developed countries make me very upset…
    http://thephilanthropist.ca/2016/02/the-moral-imperative-for-policy-advocacy/

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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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