How your fundraising might be telling donors NOT to give

You’ve seen the facts like these:

  • An American dies from COVID-19 every minute and a half.
  • That’s the equivalent of 1,450 fully loaded airplanes crashing with no survivors.
  • It’s as if the entire city of Akron, Ohio, had been wiped from the face of the earth.

We could go on and on to bring out the enormity of the tragedy we’re facing.

But if we’re doing so to encourage people to donate, we’d be utterly defeating ourselves.

The gigantic size of this problem — any problem — is not a reason to donate.

In fact, it’s a reason not to donate.

That’s a quirk of the human brain.

There’s a great article at National Geographic about this phenomenon: Why our minds can’t make sense of COVID-19’s enormous death toll.

The article points out that our brains aren’t wired to make sense of big numbers:

More tragedy doesn’t always elicit more empathy; it can counterintuitively bring about apathy. The magnitude of the death toll can cause some people to become less compassionate.

So if your cause is to fight a big problem — COVID-19, world hunger, homelessness, disease, refugee outflows, climate change, any other massive problem — connect with donors in a way that gives them hope that they can make a difference.

Present them with a solvable piece of the problem. One person.

You’re not hiding the truth from them. They know the problem is big.

But when your fundraising says Donate now because this problem is truly humungous you are telling them exactly the most persuasive reason that they should not act. (I call this type of fundraising fundcrushing, because it pretty much does the opposite of raising funds.)

Instead, show them a problem that is imminently solvable. That’s what sparks the most action.

We are wired to have compassion for individuals. Don’t fight the way the human brain works. Work with the reality of the brain.


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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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