When you’re sitting across from a donor and talking to her, you can see her reactions, so you can tell whether your message is getting through. You can tell whether she’s engaged in your cause.
But in a direct mail or email appeal, it’s not that simple. You’re communicating with someone you can’t see and probably haven’t ever met. So how do you create something like the kind of immediacy and impact of a face-to-face discussion?
One way is to use emotional triggers in appeals. Decades of best practices in direct marketing have shown that emotional triggers work to capture the interest of the target audience. They're not just effective in for-profit marketing – we should use emotional triggers in our fundraising appeals too. Let’s take a look the most powerful emotional triggers you can use in your fundraising communications:
This trigger is huge for fundraising. Altruism is concern for others, and it’s pretty much hard-wired into humans. One way to tap into it is with a compelling story about a beneficiary who’s suffering – a story that tugs on the heartstrings to elicit concern and sympathy. Other ways include adding photos that show need, reminding donors of past giving (acts of altruism), and coming out and saying, “You’re a good person. The fact that you’re reading this letter tells me you care about people who are hurting.”
Donors are inclined to take action when there’s a wrong that needs to be righted. Like altruism, it’s hard-wired. It goes to the very core of our sense of fair play, and when that’s violated, donors get riled up. “Look at what pollution does. It fouls the air we breathe. It soils the water we drink. It’s destroying our forests. I’m not going to stand for it. Are you?”
This emotional trigger is one of the most powerful. Everyone has experienced it, and it’s part of almost any cause. When you contrast the donor’s relatively comfortable life with that of someone who’s homeless, say, or living in abject poverty in a developing country, the result is likely to invoke a feeling of guilt. “As I watched little Amina lying in that bed in the clinic, barely breathing, beyond hope, drifting away, I kept asking myself, ‘Why do we have so much when this innocent child is starving to death?’”
Judging from its use in commercial marketing, fear may be the single most powerful motivator. Don’t avoid it in fundraising. Use it to get donors involved. “When drug addiction increases, so does the crime that goes with it. What will happen in our neighborhoods? What will we do when burglaries and muggings skyrocket? How will we keep our homes secure? How will we protect our children?” To stir a powerful reaction from donors is to use fear as a motivator.
You want the donor reading your appeal to think he’s the most important person in the world in that moment. “Your generosity really sets you apart as a truly committed and beloved supporter. You’re at the heart of this work to end homelessness.” Exclusivity as a motivator is also a natural for sustainer appeals that invite donors to become monthly supporters. “You’re invited to join this select group of supporters who believe in putting a stop to child abuse.” Exclusivity is also an effective motivator in appeals to higher-dollar donors. “The extraordinary generosity you’ve demonstrated puts you way out front as a leading advocate in the pro-life movement.”
There are an infinite number of ways to express these triggers in your appeals, and it’s limited only by your imagination. Keep in mind, though, that there’s no need to restrict yourself to only one trigger in an appeal. Human beings are complex creatures. None of us is motivated by a single emotion. Many different emotions come into play as donors make the decision to give. So it makes sense to use as many emotional triggers as possible.
Motivation vs. Manipulation
You may be asking yourself, “Isn’t the use of emotional triggers manipulative?” The purpose of a fundraising appeal is to get donors to feel something about the cause. If that weren’t the case, we’d just send them a white paper on hunger, and expect a donation. That’s not how it works.
Logic and other right-brain functions don’t move donors to give. Facts, figures, charts, graphs, statistics, and the like may have a place in the marketing communications that a nonprofit does. But when it comes to a fundraising appeal – when it comes to moving donors to give a donation now – creating that emotional connection is vital.
That’s what these triggers do. They create an emotional connection. It’s not only good for fundraising results but also for the donors themselves. Donors want to feel something about the causes they support, because hunger, poverty, addiction, abuse, and so on, are all emotional issues. Donors want to feel engaged in these issues. They want to feel what the people trapped in poverty or hunger feel. And they naturally want to become part of the solution by giving.
So, no, you’re not manipulating donors with emotional triggers. It’s exactly the opposite. You’re enabling donors to be moved by your appeal. You’re creating a connection with donors that they want. And you’re helping donors get more deeply engaged in your cause, so that it becomes their cause.
About the Author
George Crankovic creates fundraising appeals that move donors to give. He provides fundraising copywriting, creative strategy, and consulting services to nonprofits nationwide. Visit www.marketing-fundraising.com to see blog posts, articles, portfolio samples, and more.