Are you emotional or rational? Creative or analytical? Visual or systematic?
I would tend to say I’m more right-brained. I process information best visually. Give me a Trello board or flow chart over an Excel doc any day. And when it comes to marketing, well, let’s just say the dog food commercial in the Super Bowl may have gotten to me (just a little bit).
The Farmer’s Dog brand dog food definitely pulled on the heartstrings. When it comes to your donor marketing where is your focus? On the head or the heart?
Marketing to Donors’ Hearts
Appealing to a donor’s heart is an emotional approach that aims to create a connection and evoke action-inducing feelings such as empathy, compassion, belonging, nostalgia and altruism.
This type of marketing appeals to the right side of the brain responsible for emotional intelligence, creativity, storytelling and imagination.
Why It Works
- Emotional connection: When you appeal to a donor’s heart, you can create a deep emotional connection with your organization and its mission. This connection can result in increased engagement, loyalty and long-term support.
- Easy to understand: Emotional appeals leave a lasting impression without a lot of analysis. Unlike rational appeals, they are generally straightforward and easy to grasp.
- Elicits action: When presented with an emotional appeal, donors are more likely to respond quickly, compelled to act in the moment.
Why It May Not
- Lack of data: Emotional appeals are often based on stories, which may lack the data and facts to support the effectiveness of your organization’s work that some people seek.
- Short-lived impact: Emotional appeals can result in support, but without providing evidence of the effectiveness of your organization’s work (and good stewardship), the donation may be one-and-done.
How To Do It
- Tell a compelling story that showcases the impact your nonprofit is making. Show how real people (places, causes, animals) are already benefiting from your organization and show them how they can be a part of it.
- Create a sense of nostalgia for your supporters by reminding them of their ties to your organization.
- Invite participation. Ask your supporters to tell you how your organization has impacted their lives. Share their responses.
Marketing to Donors’ Heads
Appealing to a donor’s head is a rational approach focusing on logic, facts and data to persuade donors to support your cause.
Donors who respond best to this type of marketing tend to use the left side of the brain in decision-making. This side is responsible for functions such as an inclination toward realism, facts, details, analytics and objective thinking.
Presenting your nonprofit’s achievements and impact with data and statistics helps demonstrate the effectiveness of your work.
Why It Works
- Evidence-based: Providing hard evidence of the effectiveness of your organization’s work helps build credibility and trust. The annual Give.org Donor Trust Report tells us that 63% of Americans rate the importance of trusting a charity before giving as essential, with only 19% saying they highly trust charities.
- Long-term impact: Appeals to donors’ heads can result in long-term support, as donors are more likely to support organizations with a proven track record of success.
- Appeals to a different type of donor: Some donors prefer a more rational approach and might be skeptical of emotional appeals.
Why It May Not
- Lack of connection: Logical messaging often leaves out the emotional element resulting in a lack of connection.
- Hard to understand: This type of messaging can be more challenging to process, especially for those unfamiliar with the data or jargon used by your nonprofit.
- Not always immediate: Persuading donors to support your cause with data can delay response, as donors may take additional time to review the results.
How To Do It
- Present your nonprofit’s achievements and future goals with data and statistics.
- Survey your donors to find out the types of information they want to know about. Share the survey data with responders.
- Make it clear where their donations go and the impact they make.
Which One Wins?
Both emotional and rational appeals have their place. Appeals to donors’ hearts can create an emotional connection but may lack data the data donors want. Appeals to donors’ heads can provide evidence of effectiveness but may fail to make a meaningful connection.
A balanced approach often works best. A recent study tested the effects of different types of appeals (emotional-only, rational-only, emotional-first combined with rational, and rational-first combined with emotional) on participants’ willingness to donate to children living in poverty. The result: both emotional and rational appeals had a significantly positive impact on charitable giving. The combined rational-first appeal performed best, but only slightly better than the emotional-only appeal, followed closely by the combined emotional-first appeal.
Of course, determining the marketing messaging you employ should be informed first by your supporter base. You know your donors best. Depending on your mission, you may find your donors tend to be particularly influenced by emotion or by statistics.
The best news? Simply asking for a donation, no matter the messaging, will garner support. A study by Dutch scholars Rene Bekkers and Pamala Wiepking found that 85% of respondents said the reason they gave was simply because someone asked them.
Below is an example of a nonprofit that did a fantastic job of blending emotional and rational messaging in their planned giving marketing. (Click images to enlarge.)