I’m about to clairify a subtle but very important point about what motivates philanthropic giving. After all, that’s what the “Clairification” blog is all about.
It’s often said that people give to people. So true.
But people are funny.
People will often give more to people who show them the pain that can be avoided through their gift rather than the people who show them the good that can be gained.
Seems counter-intuitive, right?
Absolutely. So here’s a little reminder that people don’t always behave as you might intuitively believe they would. Which is why fundraising is part art and part science. And here’s something we know from the research:
Fear of loss weighs heavier than hope of gain
Allow that to sink in a minute.
Again, this is subtle. But if you ‘get it’ you can really improve your fundraising messaging and calls to action. So stay with me.
We know donors give because they want to make a positive impact. To do good in their community and/or the world. To make a difference. So shouldn’t we stress the benefits of giving for our donors?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But you’ve got to do so within the right context.
Begin by showing people what they have to lose by not giving
Generally, what people stand to lose is the hope that their gift truly will make a meaningful impact.
Hope is a powerful emotion. In the absence of hope, it’s hard for people to feel good.
With most of us, hope springs eternal. We seek a brighter future. A better tomorrow. A final frontier.
A litany of benefits will not prompt action as strongly as demonstrating the hopelessness that can be avoided if the donor gives.
But here comes the tricky part.
You don’t want to show people too much potential loss. They’ll give generously to avoid loss when they think it’s something they realistically can do. But…
Write your fundraising offer in such a way that it doesn’t trigger feelings of hopelessness
Let me demonstrate what I’m talking about by telling you about a little experiment, conducted by Paul Slovic that reveals how subtle factors affect the way people gauge the impact of their gift.
When asked if they’d save 4,500 lives in a refugee camp with 11,000 people, donors gave more generously than when they thought the camp had 100,000 people.
Why? The perceived relative impact was bigger.
When asked if they’d give $10 million to save 50% of the 20,000 people killed annually by a disease, they chose this option rather than giving the same $10 million to save 20,000 people from a disease that killed 290,000 lives a year.
Why? They’d rather not lose 270,000 lives than save an additional 10,000 lives.
I told you. It’s counter-intuitive.
It’s more appealing to spend the same amount when less loss is involved
Too much loss, and people begin to feel hopeless.
If you give $15,000 you can fund a pantry to feed 1,000 of the 5,000 people in this neighborhood who don’t have enough to eat.
If you give $15,000 you can fund a pantry to feed 1,000 of the 100,000 people in this City who don’t have enough to eat.
The ask seems to be the same. But the second answer will be met with greater failure than the former.
Human behavior is ruled by emotions much more than logic (remember the difference between irrational humans and logical Vulcans on Star Trek?).
Regret is about lost opportunity, while hope is about opportunity to be gained
We feel regret for our inaction, for what we didn’t do. We feel hope for our action, for what we can do.
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman is famous for loss aversion experiments that demonstrate how much people’s economic behavior is guided by a change of reference point.
We hate losing things more than we like gaining them.
For example, if forced to choose between being given $500 for certain or a 50% chance of winning $1,000, most of us will opt for the sure thing. But if the choice is between losing $500 for sure or a 50% chance of losing $1,000, most of us will take the gamble.
When you suggest to people that they give something up in order to do good, they have a lot of difficulty doing so.
Has anyone in your organization ever suggested that you suggest that folks give up their latte for a week and give the money, instead, to charity? Guess what? It doesn’t work well. People don’t want to give up their latte!
We aren’t motivated by thinking about how things could be worse. The worse things look, the more hopeless people become. They become paralyzed into inaction.
If you want to motivate people to answer your call to action, demonstrate believably how things can be better
That’s why it’s good to:
- Tell one story about how you’ll use your donor’s gift. Take a look at the 1980 study by Richard Nisbett showing how a single, vivid story more powerfully affected test subjects than authoritative data on the same topic.
- Have reasonable, reachable fundraising goals.
- Be specific about what you’ll do with the money raised. If you tell me you need $300,000 to give shelter to 10 women for a year, I have a good sense of what the impact of my gift will be. If you ask me to make a gift of any amount (“every little bit helps” is one of the common fundraising phrases that makes my skin crawl) to go towards your $3 million budget to help 15,000 homeless people, I’m a bit lost. It’s seems overwhelming, and my gift seems like it will be a mere drop in the bucket.
Mother Teresa famously said: “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”
Inspire your donors to act. Make them feel hopeful about the impact of their philanthropy.
Take the Pain out of Asking for Major Gifts!
Learn to inspire major donor prospects to say “Yes!” If you know what you’re doing – and why you’re doing it – it’s easy to overcome your fear of asking.
I’m excited to be collaborating for a live, 4-session Virtual Major Donor Master Class Series with donor-centered fundraising and retention expert Jay Love and fundraising “wild woman” Mazarine Treyz. You’ll learn how to take your prospect on a journey that insures a win/win/win — for you, your donor and everyone in your community who relies on you for help.
- Learn how donors feel about being asked.
- Prime your donor to make a passionate gift.
- Get confident that now is the time to ask.
- Overcome your fear of making the ask.
- Hands-on practice!
Get all the details here. I’m really thrilled to be offering this one-time opportunity to learn from 3 experts for the price of one! Grab the early bird before it disappears September 22nd. Don’t forget; after midnight Tuesday the price goes up . Hope to see you there!
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