This time of year is what I call “presuasion time.”
Because if you’re thoughtful about it, you can presuade donors to give up to the moment you ask!
That’s what we reviewed in Part 1 of this two-part series, where I described research from Robert Cialdini, author of the seminal Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and the newer book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, and discussed how you might apply this research to your fundraising strategies. We learned the importance of leading with a “gift” or “favor” that will incline your donor favorably in your direction. Even the smallest of favors can create significant goodwill, and there are simple ways to boost the likelihood your favor will be returned.
- Today we’re first going to look at a way to tweak your language to make a difference.
- Then we’ll explore some types of favors donors are likely to value enough to want to reciprocate.
First, a reminder: Every time of year is presuasion time. Everthing you do with supporters should be designed to prime the pump so people are pre-disposed to give to you the next time you ask. Whether that’s next week, the week thereafter, or any week of the year! Whenever you’re not asking, you should be in presuasion mode.
So, let’s get a little psychologically-minded, keeping in mind one of the six core Cialdini principles of Influence and Perusasion: Reciprocity. In brief, human beings often feel obligated to return favors, even if they are unasked for.
What Language or Action Cements the Likelihood Your Favor is Returned?
Cialdini suggests once you’ve done the meaningful favor, and the donor thanks you, you should say (or write) something back that cements the likelihood they’ll return the favor in the future (i.e., make another philanthropic gift). Cialdini suggests messaging along the lines of:
“Well, you know, I’m sure you would do the same for me if the situation were reversed in the future.”
You don’t say,
“I’m sure you would have done the same for me.”
It’s subtle, but the “would have” language puts the imagined reciprocal act in the past. Instead you want to put people on record that, yes, they’ll think about reciprocating some time in the future.
How might you execute this recommendation?
One of my favorite strategies is collecting donor birthdays (you don’t have to ask for the year) and also soliciting contributions from the board to a “Donor Birthday Fund.” You then have a pool of money enabling you to send a card to donors in their honor. You can pick a segment of your donor pool in order to keep this manageable. Don’t just think gift size; also consider loyalty. One of the things you’ll hope to do is presuade donors to make a legacy gift at some point, and monthly donors are as fruitful a group as major donors in this regard.
If you want to reinforce future behavior that is consistent with the ‘gift’ you just presented, there are two different ways to message donors:
“In gratitude for your past generositiy, a gift has been made in your honor by the Bord of Directors.”
“In gratitude for your ongoing generosity, a gift has been made in your honor by the Board of Directors.”
The former already happened and is relegated to the past. The latter sends the message you assume they will give again, and on an ongoing basis.
What Types of Valuable Gifts/Favors can Nonprofits Afford to Give?
A lot, in my humble opinion. And this is where we get into the realm of what I define broadly as donor-centered content marketing.
In a nutshell, think of content as a meaningful gift. It’s the essence of your organization’s mission, vision and values. Who you are. What you do. What you have to offer. And it should make the donor feel good about what you do, and about their association with you. Click here and here for more on how to craft your own sure-to-be-appreciated content, remembering that, without it, you’ve got nothing. You’re just a box with nothing inside. Kids like to play with boxes; most folks — when they grow up — are looking for something of value inside the box.
Your value is your content. Your brand. What you offer a potential constituent. What you’re all about.
Your assignment is simply to wrap this essential content (the goodies you have that no one else has) up into a gift, always focusing on what’s in it for the gift recipient. What will be perceived as meaningful to them?
1. Content Hiding in Plain Sight
Most nonprofits have tons of content sitting around, hidden, that would be really useful to their constituents. It doesn’t have to be expensive or tangible. It can simply be an article you’ve written with answers to frequently asked questions. Or a “how to” guide. Or the latest research. Or “top 10 tips” to keep your aging parents safe… go a little greener… get your kid to finish their homework… communicate your concerns to your legislator… etc. Share what you know and provide little “gifts” now, to promote longer and more lasting interactions later.
2. Stories Galore
What do human beings love more than stories? Think about it. They’re the oldest form of human communication. People are wired to embrace stories. They’re predisposed to want to enter into them. To become a part of them. So how can you offer up some stories that feel like gifts? Here I offer you a “good” choice and a “better” choice:
Heroic Journey Stories are Good
This is where Cialdini’s new book about the science of presuasion gets interesting. He states:
“the classic narrative structure that marketers are taught to include in their messages is the hero’s journey essentially in which some protagonist has a challenge and overcomes it by choosing the right approach and winning the day essentially.”
Nonprofits tend to tell a version of this story, with the protagonist being someone we identify with and feel compassion towards, then want to swoop in to help by being the hero. These are great stories, yet Cialdini suggests that instead we offer up a type of story that might be even more likely to get donors to keep giving over time.
Mystery Stories are Better
Such stories begin with some kind of puzzle, something that doesn’t make sense on its face. The marketer/fundraiser invites prospective donors in to the material as a way of solving the mystery. This draws them in to learning more about the details than they otherwise would. It keeps them engaged.
Mary had always been an honors student. This year, she started getting C’s and D’s.
Now, the donor wants to be the hero on a much deeper level. It’s not just a fairy tale hero. It’s a real problem they’re resolving. So this hero is smart, thoughtful, clever and diligent. A three-dimensional hero, if you will.
Her parents lived in a good neighborhood, always showed up for parent-teacher conferences, and volunteered at school. So no one suspected.
Because the way you solve a mystery is to understand all of the details associated with what happened. That’s the only way you get to figure out the solution in a detective novel or a mystery story.
Until a teacher overheard Mary talking to her friend, and learned the awful truth.
This is beginning to sound like a remarkably good way to get folks truly engaged with the problems with which your nonprofit grapples, don’t you think?
Cialdini then offers up one additional tool.
3. Visual Imagery
An image can be a visual “gift” to be shared. Let’s look at one example from the retail world, and one from a nonprofit.
EXPERIMENT: Online Furniture Store
Cialdini’s researchers arranged to send visitors to one of two landing pages. One had wallpaper pictures of fluffy clouds as its background. The other had pictures of coins. Visitors who went to the clouds landing page searched the website for the most comfortable furniture. Those who went to the coins landing page searched for the most inexpensive furniture. People made their decisions on what was most important to them in their search based on the backgrounds to which they were, unconsciously, directed.
This implies that whatever you put into a donor’s viewing space immediately before your message will lead people in a direction that is aligned with that element.
TIP: If you want to incline someone to feel empathy towards a troubled child, include a compelling photo of that child on your website, online appeals, donation landing pages and offline print materials. If you want to incline someone to save a forest, introduce your message with a photo showing utter devastation. If you want to incline people to join together to complete a campaign, introduce your message with photos of people standing together. Or perhaps a dynamic fundraising thermometer. And so forth.
One group of students assigned to call alumni donors was given a plain sheet of paper with talking points. The other group was given the same talking points, but with a picture of a runner winning a race on the paper. Would you believe the callers who had the photo on their paper collected 60% higher donations? The imagery these callers saw pre-suaded them to make a more compelling pitch that would “win” the race. Once callers were pumped up, donors could achieve a contact high!
TIP: You can use this to your own advantage whenever you make asks by telephone. Paste a compelling image on your computer or next to your phone and see what it inspires. Cialdini reports research demonstrating if you show people a picture of Rodin’s “The Thinker” statue, they become more thoughtful. Consider how you want to be, and the mood you want to invoke; then use imagery to pre-suade yourself to make your most effective pitch ever! [NOTE: Besides pinning up inspiring photos, what about simply putting a smile on your face whenever you talk on the phone? I find this works wonders for volunteers making calls. And that was before I knew about Cialdini’s new book!]
Getting to the Heart of Pre-Suasion
Your donor’s philanthropic journey begins with you. Your job as a philanthropy facilitator is to match the values your organization enacts in the world to your donor’s values and passions. You can fan the flames of donor passions by using pre-suasion to invite folks on a fulfilling and transformative journey.
You do this by offering little gifts that predispose folks to join you. With pre-suasion technique, the idea is to go to the moment immediately before you deliver your fundraising offer. Ask people to focus on a concept that is consistent with the offer you will then present, and they will become more open to it — because they’ve been sensitized to that material.
It could be a photo, a testimonial, an intangible or token gift — there are all sorts of ways to be pre-suasive and “ready” donors to say “yes” when you make your appeal:
Let’s Summarize from Two-Part Series: Ramp Down Risk/Ramp Up Joy
- Use testimonials to show you’re trustworthy and effective
- Focus on your unique qualities to differentiate yourself from others
- Engage in ongoing stewardship that keeps donors in a constant state of positive engagement
- Do donors meaningful favors that predispose them to return the favor
- Offer gifts of useful content that make donors happy
- Tell stories donors can dig into and become an integral part of
- Put images into a donor’s viewing space that will lead them in the direction you want them to go.
- Be an ongoing cheerleader who focuses donors on the most positive aspects of their philanthropy.
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Photo courtesy of Aleksa D. freedigitalphotos.net