fewer facts, more feelings ⋆ Hands-On Fundraising

You’re an emotional creature.

That’s not an insult! We all are. It’s how humans… human.

I’m thinking about this as I write to you, because so often we feel compelled to prove our worth, and our organization’s worth, to our community.

But especially when you’re asking people to support your mission, you’ll do so much better if you stop worrying about logical, rational proof.

All those lovely numbers and statistics have their place. Use them to show donors their impact after they’ve given. (In a nice infographic that’s easy to digest, please!)

Less prove, more move

But when you’re sending an appeal, there will be two kinds of people who read it. Those who do or could care, and those who don’t. All the numbers in the world won’t change the minds of those in the “don’t” category. And they’ll only put obstacles in the way of those who do care.

You might be the kind of person who likes to hold a bunch of numbers in your head and then make them all make sense. (I’m not!) But even you, oh mathematically talented one, are an emotional creature.

And here’s the thing about emotions… they’re messy. They can be hard to hold. They can make us feel uncomfortable. There’s nothing neat and tidy about them.

First, every feeling begins with an external stimulus, whether it’s what someone said or a physical event. That stimulus generates an unfelt emotion in the brain, which causes the body to produce responsive hormones. These hormones enter the bloodstream and create feelings, sometimes negative and sometimes positive.

So, to review, it’s stimuli, then emotions, then hormones and, finally, feelings. In other words, your emotions impact your decision-making process by creating certain feelings.

How Your Emotions Influence Your Decisions by Svetlana Whitener Forbes Councils Member

And that’s how they work in your favor when you’re asking for a donation.

As Steven Screen explains so well,

Great-performing appeals remind a donor that “something’s not right in the world, but it could be if you help.”

That’s why sharing the need is so effective in appeals and e-appeals: it taps into something the donor already knows and feels.

No education needed. No programs or processes need to digest.

It’s a shortcut to the donor’s heart. To what she cares about most.

Boy, I love that! So simple.

Your donor isn’t going to study your appeal. Most likely, she isn’t going to even read it. She’ll skim it. You have very little time to persuade her to give.

So if you spend that precious time trying to prove your worth with stats – like an eager student presenting a completed project to her teacher – you’re not nearly as likely to get the results you need.

That’s because we don’t make logical decisions. Yup. It’s true:

When an emotion is triggered in your brain, your nervous system responds by creating feelings in your body (what many people refer to as a “gut feeling”) and certain thoughts in your mind. A great deal of your decisions are informed by your emotional responses because that is what emotions are designed to do: to appraise and summarize an experience and inform your actions.

Like It or Not, Emotions Will Drive the Decisions You Make Today by Mary C. Lamia Ph.D.

You need to focus on the problem, of course. But use your human feelings and stories to show, not tell, your reader about it. Then show how your donor can solve it through your organization. When you do this you’re building that tension Steven mentions.

We humans don’t like tension. When there’s a problem, and we could do something about it, we want to help.

So that uncomfortable emotion can push us to a resolution… make a gift.

But so often we let emotions get in our own way.

Asking for money, even through a written appeal, is uncomfortable, too. When you ask for help, it feels like that puts you in an inferior position. A supplicant. And who likes that?

Knowing that only a percentage of the people you ask will respond can make it feel all the more uncomfortable. As if the problem your organization wants to solve is your failure. Now, logically, you understand it’s not. But emotionally? Not so much.

That’s when we revert to making a logical case. We pull out numbers and statistics. We use them to distance ourselves from the problem. We use them to feel more comfortable about asking for help.

Using numbers takes you, the writer, the organization’s representative, out of the spotlight. It’s the fundraising equivalent of “mistakes were made”. No ownership of the ask, no embarrassment, right?

I’m not really asking you to do something… just presenting the facts.

Feeling vulnerable is uncomfortable. Most of us will avoid it if we can.

But being vulnerable, and open to emotions, is how relationships are made. And how you connect with your reader – on a human level – and inspire a gift.

You won’t be less of a person, I promise you. And your discomfort is a sign that what your writing will probably reach right past logic (why should I part with my hard-earned money?) and right to emotion (I hate that this is happening. And I can help. I should send a gift; it will feel better.)

And that’s the point, isn’t it?

So don’t fear the feelings. Feel the feelings, and then use them for good.

Photo by Antoni Shkraba