I came across this Stanford research study in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and I have to say I’m surprised.
The article claims there’s an “empathy gap” between men and women. Because of this, it advises emphasizing how the prospective male donor will benefit from their philanthropy, rather than highlighting the impact of their philanthropy on the beneficiary.
I’m not certain the right take-away from this research is to smother men with “hard” factual data and women with “soft” emotional stories.
Because I’ve read study after study that show the heart trumps the mind – and stories out-pull data — every time.
Reason doesn’t persuade; stories do.
One story works better than two or three or more; even combining them with data depresses response.
Human beings are wired for stories; we remember them and they touch our hearts.
And stories inspire and encourage action – just what you’re looking for in crafting a fundraising appeal.
“Men are more motivated by messages that say poverty affects them and the people in their lives”
So says Robb Willer, a Stanford sociology professor and co-author of the aforementioned Stanford study.
That may be true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean facts trump emotion. In fact, I’d wager you’d do best if you stressed the emotional impact of poverty on these men’s loved ones, neighbors, children’s schools, workplaces and community.
I write this because I truly hope you won’t read the article about this study and suddenly change your fundraising appeal strategy to go back to making everything sound cut and dried – like a term paper. I see way too many of those types of appeals. And, pardon the expression, they suck.
That’s why I’m on a mission to encourage you to tell emotion-packed stories in your fundraising appeals.
Stories with a protagonist (person, animal, place or thing) that your reader comes to care about. Stories with a conflict your protagonist needs help to overcome. Stories where your donor can rush in to be the hero!
And this isn’t just coming from me. Over the past few decades the field of psychology has been seriously studying how story affects the human mind. Guess what? Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes and values are strongly influenced by story – much more so than writing specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.
The psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock argue that entering fictional worlds “radically alters the way information is processed.” Green and Brock’s studies shows that the more absorbed readers are in a story, the more the story changes them.
Wow! If you can captivate potential donors with an emotional story, it may just prompt them to change their own behavior enough to help you do something that makes a difference!
People presented with “evidence” approach with their dukes up.
In his book, Tell to Win, Peter Guber takes the story vs. data conversation even further, noting that when we are presented with “evidence” we ready ourselves for a fight. Our defense mechanisms readily kick in, and we begin to look for some reason to refute what we’re being told.
With stories, however, the opposite occurs. We fall into the story and become connected to its characters; we become transported.
What does this have to do with crafting a fundraising appeal? Everything.
Your goal is to create a fundraising offer your prospect cannot refuse.
And there’s very little that’s more difficult to refuse than the opportunity to become a hero and give the story a happy ending.
The interesting thing about the Stanford study – and the reason I quibble with the conclusions – is that it didn’t really test sense vs. sensibility (i.e., whether men have as much capacity to respond to emotion-based vs. fact-based appeals as do women). Rather, it tested four motivation-based appeals. And the very definition of motivation is the provision of a reason to do something – reason and logic being almost the antithesis of emotion.
So… the authors of the study began with reason; then looked at which type of reason was most persuasive to men. They made four pitches, each appealing to a different motivation: efficacy, conformity, social injustice, and self-interest.
The efficacy pitch stated that “more than 98 percent of donations go on to directly to benefit the poor.” The conformity pitch suggested that many other donors were getting involved. The injustice appeal stated that people “born into poverty never had the opportunities that other Americans had.”
The fourth pitch, designed to trigger self-interest, included the statement, “Poverty weighs down our interconnected economy, exacerbating many social problems like crime.” It was the only appeal that raised men’s willingness to give money or volunteer at a rate comparable to that of women.
I can believe it’s important to stress self-interest, and that’s a good tip. After all, there’s certainly some self interest in seizing the chance (when offered) to rush in to save the day. However I would weave self interest in subliminally, and would never suggest that the only reason the donor was stepping in was due to their own ego.
“You can be Jimmy’s hero, assuring he never again goes to bed hungry” suggests altruism. It’s quite different from “You can prevent crime in your community by eliminating hunger and the social problems it exacerbates.”
“Once upon a time…”
What does that phrase do to you? I’ll bet it makes you want to settle in and hear the story that’s about to unfold. We perceive stories as a gift.
A gift is an offer that’s hard to refuse.
So, while self-interest may be a fine and dandy thing, study or no I still think I’d add in some tugs on the heartstrings in the form of a transporting story.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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