I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying! 5 Powerful Ways You Can Use Emotion to Connect With Your Donors

Stelter Client Strategist Jana Cobb joins the blog today, showing us how to harness “all the feels” in your donor marketing.

A co-worker recently sent out a company-wide email with a variety of helpful links. I’ll be honest, it was a Monday, and I didn’t have the mental fortitude to dive in to see all the great things she had curated for us. But somehow, in my Monday morning fog, one link amongst a sea of links jumped out and grabbed my attention. It was titled “5 Short Stories of People Doing Good.”

I clicked. And I’m glad I did. 

Why? Because subconsciously, I knew a feel-good story was what I needed. The link took me to a video. Watching it turned my Monday mood around and brought a renewed spark to my day. It was emotional, and it brought tears to my eyes. It was a good cry. And I was reminded about the power of emotion and how we all need something that flips our emotional switch from time to time—and so do your donors.

In nonprofit fundraising, where numbers, facts and statistics often dominate the narrative, it’s easy to lose sight of the emotional core that drives your mission. However, emotion is the bridge that spans the gap between your organization’s mission and the hearts of your donors. By tapping into emotions, you are providing your donors a gift: allowing them to experience the essence of your work, envision the impact they can make and become true partners in your journey. This not only helps to secure their support but also helps foster a lasting relationship with your cause. 

Let’s talk about the art of connecting back to emotion in your nonprofit fundraising messages. We’ll explore why it matters and how it can benefit both your organization and your donors.

1. The Emotion-Connection Equation

Imagine a fundraising appeal that merely rattles off statistics versus one that tells a heartfelt story of a person whose life was transformed by your organization’s efforts. Which one do you think would resonate more with your donors? The answer seems clear: emotion.

Emotion is the catalyst that turns passive donors into passionate advocates. When you connect with your donors on an emotional level, you give them the chance to engage with your mission not just intellectually, but viscerally. They can feel the impact of their contributions, visualize lives transformed, and understand the urgency of your cause. Emotional stories humanize your mission, making it relatable and personal.

2. The Power of the Identifiable Beneficiary

Showcasing the story of a single thing—a patient, student, animal, etc.—can be remarkably effective. In fact, in a recent study, when tested against nine other types, messaging that included an identifiable victim came in second for increasing the likelihood of naming the organization in an estate plan.

When you focus on an individual’s journey, struggles, and triumphs, it can create a relatable connection to your donors’ own experiences or a tangible link between their contributions and real-world impact. This emotional bridge inspires a sense of connection and competence in your donors as they realize they belong to something and their involvement with your organization is making a direct difference in someone’s life. It enhances their psychological well-being. 

3. Choosing Your Story and Images with Care

Not all stories are created equal. Far too many times we find stories that are devoid of an emotional connection. Are you using emotion within your story to convey your message? Read it and ask yourself, “Does this make me feel something?” Have a friend read it and ask them the same thing.

Once you get the story right, pair it with evocative images that capture poignant moments, as visuals can often communicate emotions more powerfully than words alone. Your choice should reflect your mission’s essence while stirring empathy and compassion.

4. Reconnecting to Purpose

As fundraisers, your daily tasks might sometimes feel detached from your nonprofit’s core mission. To combat this, make a point to set aside time regularly to reset yourself in a way that allows you to connect back to your mission emotionally. Volunteer to sort food donations, serve a meal, read to children in the cancer ward, or stroll through your museum, zoo or national park. These experiences can serve as a reminder of the very reason your organization exists, reinforcing the significance of your work and rekindling your passion.

5. Fostering Lasting Relationships

The emotional connection formed through stories can lead to long-lasting relationships between your organization and its donors. When donors feel emotionally invested, they are more likely to remain loyal and engage in ongoing support. Regular updates showcasing the tangible outcomes of their contributions will further solidify this bond, ensuring a sustainable stream of funding and advocacy. 

As you craft your next fundraising message, remember the power of emotion (and don’t be afraid to cry).

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