The subtle signal that may tell donors to delay

by guest blogger George Crankovic. He blogs at The Clued-in Copywriter.

The language we speak doesn’t just determine how we communicate. It determines how we think and act.

This is the idea behind an interesting TED Talk called Could Your Language Affect Your Ability To Save Money? by a behavioral economist who looks into the widely different rates of personal savings in various countries around the world.

This might give us a powerful clue about how we communicate with donors.

Here’s some background. In the countries where people speak a language that has a future tense, like English and Spanish, the rates of personals savings are lower than in countries where people speak a language without a future tense, like Finnish and Chinese.

To most English speakers, the idea of not having a future tense is hard to grasp. While we can say in English, “It will rain tomorrow,” that sense of dividing up time into units of yesterday, today, and tomorrow doesn’t exist in all languages. And that’s the crux of the issue.

English forces us to speak about time in past, present, and future, so it forces us to think about time like that. When we use the future tense to talk about an event, we’re cognitively separating that event from the present, and we treat it as something essentially different.

That’s the hypothesis, and if it’s true, it’s easy to see why people who speak future-tense languages have lower savings rates. Saving for the future seems a lot less urgent when your thinking tells you the future is something distinct from the present.

Think about what this might mean for how we motivate donors to give.

It might seem perfectly natural to write a line of copy like this: “Your gift will transform the lives of people in need.” That seems to focus on the impact of the donor’s gift. But because it’s in the future tense, that line might be sending a subtle message that it’s okay to put the donation off.

So, with this in mind, it might be more effective to stick to the present tense, like this: “Your gift transforms lives,” or “Give now to transform lives.”

We don’t have hard evidence to show that this definitely improves response rates, but keeping your fundraising copy in the present tense may help keep donors engaged, focused, and ready to take action now.

Sure, it’s a subtle point, but at the very least, it’s worthwhile to consider, because paying attention to the details can often make a difference and add up to better results.


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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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About the blogger

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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