The Unconscious Donor: Getting People To React
dc nonprofit conference

Emotion is an unconscious process making 95 percent of decisions really not conscious to an individual. The brain processes 11 million bits of unconscious information per second and just 40 bits per second of conscious decision-making.

Most people believe that the decision process is think, feel, do when it is actually feel, think, do. Donors are unconsciously branding what they think and feel about charities.

Branding expert Douglas Van Praet, author of “Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (And Inspire) Marketing,” yesterday opened the ANA Nonprofit Federation conference in Washington, D.C. He was a key player in the classic Super Bowl ad by Volkswagen featuring a child trying to conjure the power of Darth Vader.

The meme is not just cute symbols to use in emails and on the Internet. It is a neologism coined by Clinton Richard Dawson in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene.” It’s about emotion and how the brain often unconsciously communicates it.

Humans are hunters and gatherers and decisions often boil down to food and imagination. Three iconic television ads where the kicker has lasted for decades include food: Grey Poupon mustard, hamburger chain Wendy’s “Where’s the beef”, and “Got Milk.” One of the most popular adventure series is “The Hunger Games.”

Think of cause and effect. Meat purveyors came up with the tag line that pork was the “other white meat,” comparing it to “healthier” chicken. If one product is 10 percent fat and only one is 90 percent fat-free, which would you select? There needs to be a cognitive reframing of the thought process, he said.

The key to getting donors to notice is pattern interruption. Donors are humans and should be seen that way. There are seven steps to getting their attention: Interrupt their patterns; create comfort; lead the imagination; shift the feeling; satisfy the critical mind; change the associations; and, take action.

There are six elements to getting attention, Van Praet explained: surprise, survival, sustenance, sex, status, small fry (children). Kids work because they represent the continuation of the species. They invoke the most basic human instinct, to survive.

Getting the attention of donors and inducing them to action takes tapping into those unconscious emotions.