Who Has Your Donor’s Ear?

Of all the cartoons I remember from growing up, The Flintstones was probably my favorite. There’s an episode where Fred is torn between “the angel” on one shoulder and “the devil” on the other. As poor Fred struggles with what to do, he’s barraged by the two conflicting voices: one encouraging him to make the right choice, the other leading him astray.

Fred Flintstone

The psychology of decision making

Many of you may remember Sigmund Freud’s “Id, Ego and Superego” from Psychology 101. If Freud were to watch this episode of The Flintstones, I imagine he’d say, The devil is the id, the part of Fred that is impulsive and wants pleasure. The angel is the superego, the part of Fred that wants him to do the right thing and makes him feel guilty when he makes the wrong choice. And Fred himself is the ego, the mediator who weighs both sides and then makes a decision. 

As this relates to fundraising…

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of working with Kivi Leroux Miller, non-profit marketing consultant, speaker, author and founder of nonprofitmarketingguide.com. When it comes to fundraising, Kivi refers to these inner voices as “the inner angel and the inner bookkeeper.”

The inner angel is the part of your supporter who decides to give you a donation or to volunteer their time with you because you have touched them in some way, and that angel wants to touch you back. Angels are all heart, and they are usually in charge of decision making. You need to keep the angel on your side.

The inner bookkeeper is the part of your supporter that needs a receipt for the donation for their taxes, or the directions to your event, or other logistical or factual information. Bookkeepers are all head. We like to think our bookkeepers are in charge most of the time, but they really aren’t.

According to Kivi, even though the bookkeeper is most often not the decision maker — he can still stir up trouble.

Logic can kill fundraising

Wouldn’t you rather have your donor hear only one voice — the one that motivates giving, not hinders it?

Yet, many organizations unintentionally invite “too many people” to the conversation. They do this through the use of rational copy, such as statistics and unemotional fact and figures.

Shifting your donor from thinking with the emotional part of their brain (the one that wants to give you their money) to the rational part of their brain (the one that is weighing the reasons why this may or may not be a good idea) is a sure-fire way to kill fundraising.

Consider the following emotional appeal:

Alfred is only 11 years old but he’s already the man of the house. And he lives every day with a gnawing, desperate hunger. His elderly grandmother is only able to provide one meal a day for him. Sadly, it’s a scene far too familiar in Zimbabwe and around the world.

I imagine the voice inside the donor’s head could go something like this:

[ ANGEL] That’s heartbreaking. Eleven is way too young to be the man of the house. Gnawing hunger, that’s so sad. An elderly grandmother and only one meal a day? I want to help him!

Now consider this more rational version:

Alfred is only 11 years old but he’s already the man of the house. Like nearly 800 million other children in the world, he lives every day with a gnawing, desperate hunger. It’s a scene far too familiar in Zimbabwe and sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 50% of the population consume fewer than 850 calories a day, less than half the amount their bodies need.

Notice how this second example initially taps into the donor’s emotions, but goes downhill from there:

[ ANGEL] That’s heartbreaking. Eleven is way too young to be the man of the house.

[ BOOKKEEPER] 800 million? I wonder where they got that number. I read something different just the other day. 50% of 850 calories is half of what? Too much math for me! World hunger is such a big issue. Will my meals even make a difference?

Can you see the tug-of-war you might inadvertently be creating in the mind of your donor?

Increase donations and streamline the conversation with 3 simple practices…

  • Tell an emotional story. Keep the donor engaged with the part of their brain that controls emotions. Compassion, anger, fear and guilt are among the top emotional triggers when it comes to fundraising. Feelings, not analytical thinking, drive giving.
  • Avoid facts and figures. Numbers, statistics and other unemotional facts engage the part of the donor’s brain where reasoning occurs. Once the rational voice starts speaking into the conversation, it can be difficult to shut him up.
  • Give your donors a pleasurable experience. Giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others. Donors give because giving feels good — literally. Give your donors every opportunity to experience this warm fuzzy feeling . . . Thank them. Remind them of the difference they’re making. Make giving to your organization so pleasurable your donors will want to do it again, and again, and again.