[ASK AN EXPERT] How Do You Use Psychological Appeal Persuasion Triggers So They Complement Each Other?

Bloomerang’s donor management and fundraising tools can help you engage and retain donors.

Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s questions come from nonprofit employees who want advice on how to use psychological appeal persuasion triggers that complement each other.  

Dear Charity Clairity,

I’m wondering, in light of the ‘tricks’ you shared in the Amp Up Your Appeal’s Persuasive Power with Research from Psychology and Neuroscience webinar, how does the “warm glow” effect work alongside more negative emotions like those related to “scarcity” and “loss aversion?”

— Too Tricky

Dear Charity Clairity,

Should you combine as many of these persuasion techniques as possible, or do they cancel each other out/become confusing if overused?

— Baffled

Dear Too Tricky and Baffled,

First, these aren’t so much tricks as tools. Better yet, all 10 of the secrets I shared in the webinar can be looked at as buttons you can push to gently nudge your donor towards Yes.”

As my mentor Hank Rosso used to say: “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” Whatever tools you can use to get to joy, those are tools you should employ. Your goal in using the “hot button” principles of persuasion and influence is to get to the positive. That’s where you focus!

It’s probably not useful to characterize donors’ emotions as positive or negative. 

The idea is not to use a mix of both, but to push inexorably toward the positive. Sure, making people feel guilty can sometimes work. But gifts given grudgingly usually are not repeated. Nor are gifts where the giver felt it was just not really needed. Nor are gifts where the donor isn’t promptly, personally, and powerfully thanked. The list goes on. While all the persuasion principles addressed in the webinar apply to fundraising appeals, they apply equally to thank you letters, gratitude reports, and all other donor communications. 

You have to keep pushing towards joy.

Let’s get back to appeals. When you use scarcity to trigger FOMO (fear of missing out), you’re actually tapping into something positive the donor wants. They want to attend the event with limited seating… they want to leverage the challenge grant before it ends… they want to grab a tax deduction before year’s end… they want to ensure homeless can get shelter before winter weather sets in… they want to ensure refugees don’t continue to suffer…and so on. Just thinking about doing these things sends a jolt of dopamine to their brains, giving them a warm glow. Humans are wired this way (per MRI studies). They don’t want to miss out on this good feeling, which inclines them to follow through.

Similarly, when you channel the principle of loss aversion you simply give people a black and white choice. Go down the one route and something they care about will be lost. Go down the other route and they, and those they help, will win. Human beings are wired to make this gain/loss calculation. This is why tapping into loss aversion serves as a useful decision-making shortcut.  

The caveat is that you don’t want to show people too much potential loss. This triggers feelings of hopelessness. Hopelessness paralyzes people into inaction. They stop trying to be the hero, because it doesn’t seem doable.  Donors feel that, even if they give, there will still be great pain. Such a fundraising offer is perceived as a “drop in the bucket.” The donor feels the gift they’ve been asked for will be a relatively small and meaningless token.  So, what’s the point?

Scarcity and loss aversion may sound negative. But what you’re doing is driving people towards a positive. Not every fundraising situation is appropriate for using these particular tools, but whenever time is of the essence they can be used to great effect to trigger the “warm glow.” I encourage you to use all the other tools as well (reciprocity, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, anchoring, priming, pre-suasion, and emotional cures). Use them one at a time, or layer them as appropriate. They can all be used to give your donor the gift of joy.

And that’s a good trick!

— Charity Clairity

P.S. Don’t get baffled by worrying about using each and every trigger every single time. This work, like anything else worth doing, takes practice. It’s like learning a foreign language at first. Soon, however, it will become second nature. You’ll find some triggers that feel natural to you, and perhaps others you use only on rare occasions. It’s all good – as long as you’re pushing towards enabling donors to do what they already want to do (i.e., find meaning, joy and purpose)!

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