Are you making your donors angry? Maybe you should be.

Recently, at our weekly Masterworks staff meeting, I had the privilege of hearing from Scarlet Road, a ministry that serves women and girls who need help leaving the sex industry.

As the young woman shared about who Scarlet Road is and what they do, I was horrified to learn she wasn’t talking about the sex trade in some far-off place like Southeast Asia.

She was talking about the sex trade in my community: Poulsbo, Washington.

My mind swirled. What? The sex trade in Poulsbo?

She shared about “Lisa,” a local girl from a good family. Lisa’s first boyfriend turned out to be a pimp. When Scarlet Road found her through a sting operation with local law enforcement, she was being victimized by as many as 30 men a day here in Poulsbo.

At first I was shocked. Then a bit sick to my stomach. Then I became enraged and overwhelmed with compassion for these poor, victimized girls. By the end of her talk, I was reaching for my wallet to help stop it!

I was reacting to an emotional trigger: Anger.

The power of emotions

“Emotions pretty much drive every purchase decision that we make,” said Tom Ahern, donor communications expert and author. “And making a gift to a charity is, in effect, a purchase decision.”

Over the last couple of decades, the direct mail industry has spent trillions of dollars on testing over generations, audiences, sectors and offers. And they’ve come to a consensus on some of the more powerful emotional triggers…

The TOP emotional triggers that increase revenue for direct mail

Below are real examples of ways we’ve used these emotional triggers with some of our clients. How might you apply these triggers to your communications?

1. Anger

  • “A 15-year-old girl was beaten by her family because she became a Christian.”
  • “When children turn 18, according to the law, they must leave our facility.”
  • “As I write today, an innocent child is suffering from indescribable poverty.”

2. Exclusivity

  • “I’m writing today to invite you to become a member of our most committed monthly supporters.”
  • “Please give me a call if you have any questions. Office (XXX) XXX-XXXX or cell (XXX) XXX-XXXX.” [a handwritten P.S. from the organization’s president]
  • “Special Invitation enclosed…”

3. Fear

  • “If a gentle Christian grandmother can be targeted for her faith, then it could happen to any one of us.”
  • “Much of the world fears that Christianity in the Middle East is on the verge of extinction.”
  • “1 in 12 college students has made a suicide plan.”

4. Flattery

  • “With each donation you give, you make it possible for someone to turn on their TV and find HOPE.”
  • “Because you’ve shown that you care about the ministry, I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your friendship.”
  • “You chose to sponsor Jamalyn, send her gifts, and write her letters. You chose to speak truth about how beautiful she is to you and to God. And it’s making an incredible difference in her life.”

5. Greed

  • “Get your special DVD collection of [our founder] as a FREE GIFT before they’re all gone!
  • “Thanks to a $65,000 Challenge Grant, when you return your generous gift with the enclosed Challenge Grant Check, you’ll make TWICE the impact!”
  • “Any amount you give will multiply 5 times to feed more hungry families!”

6. Guilt

  • “You can bless children at risk — just as you have been blessed.”
  • “Many Americans don’t realize how many moms and dads constantly battle just to put food on the table.”
  • “Our hungry and homeless neighbors in [Anytown USA] are counting on YOU!”

7. Salvation

  • “You’ll help bring the love of Christ to those in the world’s most remote places.”
  • “Our God is a mighty God, capable of all things…yet He invites us to be a part of what He’s doing in the world.”
  • “With your help, change can come to the hearts of prisoners. And when that change takes hold, prisoners, their families, and the communities they return to will be transformed by the hope of Jesus Christ.”

In the non-profit world, emotional triggers are very important when trying to acquire donors, retain donors and increase giving.

If you aren’t using emotions in your donor communications, you should be.