Attendees of Leah Eustace’s and Scott Fortnum’s Journey Deeper Inside the Donor’s Brain conference session were asked to fold and then tear shapes out of a piece of paper. When they held their work up, no two matched. “Every person followed the same directions with the same piece of paper and ended up with different results,” said Eustace. “Everyone thinks and behaves differently, including donors. The big challenge in fundraising is figuring out commonalities.”
Eustace and Fortnum presented during the Association of Fundraising Professionals 51st International Convention on Fundraising in San Antonio, Texas. The session built off their popular panel, “Inside the Donor’s Brain” (https://live-nonprofittimes.pantheonsite.io/news-articles/inside-the-donors-brain/) from the previous year’s conference.
Fundraisers are suspect when they first contact donors, said Fortnum, executive director of The Living City Foundation in Toronto. Corporations are viewed as competent, while nonprofits are viewed as warm. “But if you’re trying to successfully run an organization, the confidence piece has to come in as well,” he said. “That’s why we see the most dollars going to a small number of organizations.”
Nonprofits sometimes have an uphill battle when it comes to perception. The presenters cited a study from Grey Matter Consulting (https://live-nonprofittimes.pantheonsite.io/news-articles/survey-charities-should-spend-23-on-overhead/) that showed Americans believe nonprofits should spend no more than 23 percent on overhead but think they actually spend about 37 percent. “They think we spend too much,” said Fortnum. “That’s how people see us.”
Fortnum talked about the elaboration likelihood model: how likely is someone to think deeply about what they see, hear or read. He said there are two modes of processing information. Central route processing is looking closely and taking in details, while peripheral route processing is more about superficially scanning something. “How likely you are to use the central or peripheral route processing is elaboration likelihood,” said Fortnum.
Different donors are more or less likely to use one or the other processing routes, so it’s important that your fundraising materials have a mix of emotion and data. “None of this happens in a vacuum,” said Fortnum.
Put another way, there is fast thinking and slow thinking. “When we’re communicating with donors, we want to feed into fast thinking,” said Fortnum. “We want it to be easy for people, take them along the decision making process.” It’s important to prime your donors, “setting the context so you’re better able to lead people in a direction you know they want to go and have a positive impact.” The direct mail gift array with a certain amount circled is a classic example of priming.
Eustace, principal and managing director of Good Works in Ottawa, said not to forget the principles of persuasion. Reciprocity says that if you give someone something, they feel obligated to give something back. Eustace used an example from her own life. She had become disillusioned with the profession of fundraising when she was given a Chamberlain Scholarship to attend an AFP event. After she received the scholarship, “I started being an AFP donor and now am a big-time volunteer,” she said.
Consensus and social proof means people look to others to see if something’s a good idea. It’s the reason capital campaigns have quiet phases and crowdfunding sites have leaderboards. Consistency means you identify a few positive attributes of your organization, and your communications reference them. Time-sensitive appeals and matching gifts leverage the principle of scarcity.
You can give your donor meeting a sense of authority if your CEO can attend. “It often doesn’t matter that the CEO doesn’t have a relationship with the prospect,” said Fortnum. Finally, make sure your visual materials reflect your constituency. That’s the principle of similarity.