Thursday, June 30, 2011

The heart of fundraising success

Sales is a transfer of emotion. That lesson was drummed into me early in my working life. If you want to make a sale, you’re going to have to make someone feel something and your job is to figure out the right emotion for the right person. It’s taken me a long time to accept the tyranny of that principle. I often want to believe that people buy/give for rational reasons – that they research, comparing objective criteria and make decisions on that basis. But that’s not reality and some recent online material as well as a research project in which I’m involved have made me think about the extent to which the heart rules the head when it comes to giving decisions.

A recent post from my Torontonian colleagues at Nyman Ink explored the concept of Emotional Branding, even citing a Wikipedia entry.

But isn’t all branding emotional? Seth Godin defines a brand as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” – or in fundraising terms to donate to one cause over another. How do you even begin to separate the emotional from the rational in that definition? And why bother?

Katya Andresen focused on analysis vs. emotion in a post earlier this week that presents data/studies that not surprisingly confirm that emotion trumps analysis – as I would say it does every time.

That led me to a really interesting post by consultant Tony Macklin and his “Grand Unified Theory of Donor Desire.” Tony says, "if you want to increase charitable giving, first, listen to a person’s story and hopes. He asserts that perspectives on effective philanthropy will always take a back seat to the “fundamental search for meaning and belonging.”

The last online piece is the Money for Good study recently released by Hope Consulting. Their research consists of over 4,00 interviews with individuals representing household incomes of more than $80K. These are the people that you might think are most rationally discerning about their giving. However, the study concludes, “Few donors do research before they give, and those that do look to the nonprofit itself to provide simple information about efficiency and effectiveness.” Moreover, they found that, ” While donors say they care about nonprofit performance, very few actively donate to the highest performing nonprofits.”

All of this is borne out by research in which I am involved based on interviews with Canada’s top philanthropists. One of the most often cited criteria in major gifts decisions is the passion of the person that is driving the organization or project. Hardly an empirical or rational measure. Even at the major gift level, emotion is the major determinant.

The implication for fundraisers and marketers is clear. If you want someone to give to your cause, you’re going to have to make her feel something – even at the highest levels. And while you can’t ignore the need for clear information and accountability, the more you pitch to the heart, the more successful you will be.

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