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Tapping into emotions for better online fundraising

Behavioral economist and president of science-backed emotional insights company, Dan Hill, believes that getting people to think rationally might not maximize donations. As nonprofit organizations, maximizing donations happens to be one of our top priorities, so if we are not making them think rationally, what can we be doing to motivate our donors to give and give more often?

According to Hill, “If you want to be successful at fundraising, the more you make people think, the less they feel; and the less they feel, the less they are motivated to give. It is how the brain is wired – emotional responses dictate how successful you are at asking for money. To get them to think does not lead to behavior change. None of that will happen unless you make an emotional connection.”

Don’t believe emotions are the key to better conversations and donations? Research has found that emotionally charged advertisements made twice as much money as their rational thinking counterparts.

Pulling the heartstrings

Emotions are driving forces behind many of our decisions, so our nonprofit campaigns and fundraising should not be too formulaic or rational. Here are a few tips for creating campaigns that are lead by emotions:

1. Storytelling

Charity: Water is a nonprofit organization that brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. In their September 2014 campaign, Charity: Water demonstrates how storytelling and emotions with their description of the charity’s mission to bring clean water to the poverty-stricken Sahel region of West Africa. Through subtitles, women from the region talk about the hardships of drawing water from wells and the lack of clean water. One woman was even injured when she fell into an open well, saying, “The coming of clean water changed our lives. Life is very good now. You wake up in the morning and can get clean water easily.”

Successful fundraising appeals will include authentic and emotional stories that depict how donations to a specific nonprofit will help or already has made life better. Our brains react better to stories than statistics, so storytelling is a powerful tool to utilize. The good news is there are plenty of opportunities to create stories: volunteers, field workers, beneficiaries or donors.

2. More than words

“A picture is worth a thousand words” could not ring truer when nonprofits are tapping into emotions. Whether compiling your direct mail campaign, e-newsletter or creating a new social media post, images and videos are a great way to put a face behind the story. The Gardens for Health International, a nonprofit working to provide agricultural solutions to childhood malnutrition, has a website full of bright, beautiful images that are often action shots leaving viewers with a positive feeling. When creating campaigns, include images and videos with stories of your volunteers, donors and those positively affected to put a person behind the message and evoke emotions.

3. Secret formula

Karen Klein, a 68-year-old bus monitor from Athens in the U.S., was filmed being verbally abused by four teenage boys until she started crying. The video was watched over 2 million times on YouTube, sparking outrage by viewers. People originally planned to raise $5,000 to send Karen on a nice vacation, but when all was said and done, $700,000 had been raised in just a few weeks. This event was not planned by an agency or charity, but it was backed by emotions.

There are six core emotions: happiness, surprise, anger, disgust, sadness and fear. While there is no secret formula as to which emotions are the best or strongest, your fundraising campaigns should appeal to one or more of these six emotions in order to succeed.

4. Face says it all

While testing results is often our fundraising guide to success, Dan Hill recommends facial coding as an option for testing emotions. He analyzed the expression of a volunteer delegate as she was given an impromptu street fundraising pitch. If he saw sadness or disgust on her face, he said it showed that she wanted to change that situation. We should increasingly be using this specialized technique to analyze facial expressions. Facial muscles are not controlled by our rational brain when we “feel” something, therefore, looking and analyzing donor’s faces could help us determine if our messages are evoking emotions.

If you were planning to start your next e-newsletter with a heavy statistic with no emotion, I would recommend highlighting and deleting it—or at least moving it to a different section. Your on- and offline campaigns should be evoking emotions and driving people to act.

Ronald Pruitt

Ronald Pruitt

Ronald is the President and Founder of 4aGoodCause, the fundraising CRM that makes recurring, monthly giving a breeze for small nonprofits.

For over 25 years, Ronald has had the joy of doing what he loves, building online solutions that make a difference in the world. He’s helped raise millions of dollars online for small nonprofits across the country. Connect with Ronald on LinkedIn.

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