A Journey Inside your Donor's Brain, AFP Congress 2012


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What if you could spend a couple of hours inside your donor's head? What if you knew how she thinks and what she thinks? Would you become a different fundraiser? You know you would.

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  • I’ve long had a fascination with how our brains work and, given that I’m passionate about fundraising, that’s naturally evolved into a fascination about how donors brain’s work. I gobble up articles about psychology and the science of giving, make lots of my own observations, and have learned quite a lot directly through focus groups and quantitative research.So, what I want to do this afternoon is tell you about some particularly interesting studies, and how I think we can use the learnings to fine-tune our fundraising programs and raise even more money.Sound good?I’ve love it if you’d jump in with comments and questions throughout. I’m sure many of you have your own observations about donor behavior and I’d like to hear about them.Let’s get started.
  • People give when they’re emotions are engagedDecisions are activated by unconscious part of our brain (called the limbic system) .The rational part, which governs our logical thoughts and the language, only comes into play afterwards to justify our decision.Our brain works through images:  two third of stimuli that reach our brain are visual and  more than half of the brain works on visual stimuli
  • Many people have studied emotions, including a guy named Robert Plutchik who developed what’s called the Plutchik flower (shown on the slide).Plutchik’s research yielded some amazing discoveries about emotions including a list of eight primary emotions arranged as opposing pairs. Observe:Joy vs SadnessTrust vs DisgustFear vs AngerSurprise vs Anticipationvariations in color intensity correspond to variations in emotional intensity. So, the eight primary emotions occupy the middle ring of the flower with more intense forms occurring in the center (note the bolder colors) and milder forms the extremities (note the paler colors). For example, “Rage” is the stronger form of “Anger” while “Annoyance” is the weaker.So, engage these primary emotions in your fundraising. Keep a copy of Plutchik’s flower on your bulletin board. Touch as many emotional trigger points as you can.
  • A study by social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn of UBC, helps explain an irony of modern times: increasing wealth does not necessarily make people happier. Psychologists found the greatest joys of all can be attained by giving money away. "People who donate their dollars to charities or splurge on gifts for others are more content than those who squander all the dough on themselves," says Dunn.Defying what most economists believe, Ms. Dunn reports: "The effects of altruistic spending are probably akin to those of exercise ….which can have immediate and long-term effects. Giving once might make a person happy for a day, but if it becomes a way of living, then it could make a lasting difference."
  • Perhaps you're thinking that your donors don't care about being happy; they care instead about living longer. An article in the Spring, 2008 Kaiser Permanente "Partners in Health" magazine reports on another study indicating that giving reduces the odds of an early death by nearly 60% compared with those who didn't lend a helping hand. "Making a contribution to the lives of other people may help to extend our own lives," says the lead author, Stephanie Brown, a psychologist at the Institute for Social Research. For the study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, Brown analyzed data on 423 older couples for five years. Receiving help from others was not linked to a reduced risk of mortality, but giving promoted longevity. This confirms that those who have a generous spirit and an altruistic instinct for helping others live happier and longer lives.
  • So what does this mean for the typical nonprofit? It is confirms what fundraisers know intuitively but board members need to understand: Giving donors the opportunity to invest in your successful organization is in reality doing them a favor--just like offering a tip on investing in a successful for-profit enterprise. Once board members believe this, they will be much more comfortable about raising the funds to guarantee your organization's financial health.
  • The philanthropic psychologist Jen Shang has a new fundraising study out with the public radio station WFIU in Bloomington, and it shows that five words tied to moral qualities prompt higher giving levels.Here’s how the study worked.  During the station’s pledge drive, the people answering phones thanked people for calling and randomly picked two of five words associated with moral identity to describe the caller: caring, friendly, kind, compassionate and helpful.  For example: People said, “Thanks for calling and becoming a kind and caring WFIU donor” right before they asked the amount the caller wanted to give. Female donors gave significantly more—21% more—when they heard those adjectives.  Interestingly, with male donors, it made no difference.  most charities find their donors are two-thirds female, so the implications are the technique could increasing the gift sizes of two-thirds of donors. 
  • Paul Slovic, a researcher at the University of Oregon, has done a lot of work in this area.Ordinary citizens were asked to contribute $5 to alleviate hunger abroadIn one version, the money would go to a particular girl, Rokia, a 7-year-old in MaliIn another, to 21 million hungry AfricansIn a third to Rokia, but she was presented as a victim of a larger tapestry of global hungerPeople were less likely to give to anonymous millions like Rokia. By they were also less willing to give in the third sceniaro, in which Rokia’s suffering was presented as part of a broader patternIn another experiment, people in one group could donate to a $300,000 fund for medical treatments that would save the life of one child – or, in another group, the lives of 8 children. People donated more than twice as much money to help save one child as to help save 8.
  • Today a slew of neuroscientists like Gerald Zaltman are proving what savvy marketers have always known: that giving is not a rational choice, that 95 per cent of human thought and emotion happens without our conscious awareness.Want proof? Paul Slovic ran a test offering people the following choice:Give $10 million to fight a disease claiming 20,000 lives and save 10,000.Give $10 million to fight a disease claiming 290,000 lives and save 20,000.The first option won!
  • Remember Karen Klein? Back in June, a film of Karen, a bus monitor in Upstate New York hit the interet. It showed her being bullied by 7th graders. In the video, the 7th grade boys are heard bullying Klein with taunts that include her appearance, age, as well as her purse, and comment about "the water on her face", at first saying it was sweat. Once she explains she is crying, they reply that the reason is that she misses her box of Twinkies. They then proceed with remarks about Twinkies, call her a "fat-ass" constantly, touch her, and demand that she provide her address on camera. They also threatened to egg her house, urinate on her door, and stab her.One boy refers to Klein's family, saying, "They all killed themselves, because they didn't want to be near you."[6] In reality, Klein’s oldest son had commited suicide ten years earlier.[7] It wasn’t clear if the boy who made the comment was aware of this.Soon after the video went viral, Max Sidorov, a nutritionist, author and Ukrainian immigrant living here in Toronto who says he had been a victim of bullying as a child, started a campaign at fundraising site Indiegogo with a goal of $5,000, to help give Klein a vacation. Within a few days of its creation, the fund had surpassed half a million dollars, and, in September, Sidorov presented Klein with a cheque for over $700,000. Klein stated that she plans to use $100,000 of the earnings to establish the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation, as part of the GiveBack FoundationWhy did this happen?
  • The video told a powerful story that touched on many of our primary emotions.It also told the story of one individual person… someone we could relate to a feel empathy for.What does this mean to our fundraising? It means that we should always focus on the story of ‘one.’Stories get and keep the reader’s attentionHelp you communicate betterEnhance credibilityLinger longer in reader’s mindsGet your message passed along further and faster
  • People prepared to donate to the needy were first asked either to talk about babies (to prime the emotions) or to perform math calculations (to prime their rational side). Those who did math donated less.
  • As people age, their cognitive patterns become less abstract and more concrete … in other words, they become more right brainedThis results in a sharpened sense of reality, and an increased capacity for emotionThey become better at feeling empathy and sympathy for others, taking the viewpoint of the one who speaks, seeing personal experiences and first-person stories as important way of learning, and embracing an ethic of caring
  • Other things change as we age, too.One thing I’ve been noticing for years is that marketers, both for-profit and nonprofit, continue to make serious design errors in their print materials for mature audiences. Here are my dos and don’ts of design:Type size must be larger than average. Use 12 pt type at a minimum, and I would suggest 13 pt for planned giving materials. A serif type is much easier to read in printed materials, whereas a sans-serif type is easier to read on a website. limit the use of all caps, italics, script and ornate typefaces. Use sufficient leading - (the white space around each character) between characters so that the letters don't seem to run together. Make line spacing larger than usual. Single space may be too hard to read so try 1.5 or double spacing.Use dark type on a white background. The brighter the white and the blacker the type, the easier it will be for older eyes to read. Write short paragraphs and use subheadings, in bold, to break up long copy. Make generous use of bullets, numbered lists, sidebars, and pull-out quotes to help break up your pages. Line length should be short--about five or six inches. When using color for headings or backgrounds, choose carefully. The older eye develops a yellow cast, and it becomes harder to distinguish between certain colors. For instance, blue, purple and green may look alike when used together. Yellow, orange and red are much easier to tell apart.Never use glossy paper. Light reflects from the gloss and makes it very difficult for the reader to see the print. Use a matte finish. In your newsletter, use jumps, where an article is continued on another page, rarely. The reader should be able to read an article through without having to look for the continuation. That's a good reason to keep those articles shorter too.Want to go one step further, consider hiring an accessibility consultant to review your website and materials. 
  • How many of you know someone in your organization who would say “Our donors are highly educated, it would be a big mistake to talk down to them by writing at a low grade level.”Guess what? It's not about education. It's about ease of comprehension. Low grade level copy is not "talking down" to educated readers or treating them like children. Think of it instead as a form of courtesy, like enunciating clearly when you talk. The most super-educated PhD. will appreciate and respond to copy that's easy to read.Did you know that MS Word will tell you what the readability statistics of your document are? Just go under ‘options’ then ‘proofing’ and choose to enable readability statistics. Then when you check spelling and grammar you’ll get a little pop up box that tells you the readability.
  • There’s a reason that Obama’s such a memorable orator: his last three State of the Union Addresses have been written at a grade 8 level…. The lowest grade average of any modern president.
  • Ever wondered what’s going through your donor’s mind when they make a donation? A couple of U.S. researchers at Texas Tech Universityused brain scans to find out. The three key findings from this research:Bequest giving and current giving stimulate different parts of the brain. This suggests that different motivators and de-motivators are at work.Making a charitable bequest decision involves the internal visualization system, specifically those parts of the brain engaged for recalling autobiographical events, including the recent death of a loved one.Charitable bequest decision making engages parts of the brain associated with, what researchers call, “management of death salience.” In other words, and not surprisingly, charitable bequest decision making involves reminders of one’s mortality.This research offers scientific evidence that “the donor’s own story matters most to the donor.” Decision-making about bequests is about autobiographical connections, not numbers, such as taxes, or even the needs of the charitySo, what does that mean to us as fundraisers?Focus on the donor’s story.Match the organization’s mission and needs with the donor’s autobiographical sense.Establish artificial deadlines and urgency to overcome a prospect’s natural avoidance tendencies.Suggest giving opportunities that provide some type of lasting memorial to the donor and assure the donor of the organization’s long-term stability
  • The terms planned giving and legacy giving are fundraiser-speak, not donor-speak. When donors are asked to what “Planned giving” means, they have no clue. Seriously… they don’t know what it means.“Legacy giving” is slightly better, but not much. When asked to explain what legacy giving is, most donors will describe having a building named after them… that kind of legacy.So, here’s my first tip: if you want to market planned giving to your donors, don’t mention planned giving or legacy giving: call it what it is. “Leave a bequest”“A gift in a will”Virtually every donor I’ve ever asked can tell me what a bequest is.
  • This is a fact.So, why do we have to dig 8 layers down into a website to find information about bequests?
  • Guess what? Donors already know that they can mail you a cheque, they know that they can give to you online, they know what a bequest is and how to make one.So why are we still focussing all our marketing materials on how rather than why?Throw everything out and start again: inspire your donors to give to you; engage their emotions
  • Talking about your goal makes your brain think you’ve achieved it.Stop having a singular focus on your fundraising goalKeep connecting your team with the mission(NOTE THAT THIS DOESN’T ACTUALLY LINK TO THE VIDEO!)
  • A study by the University of Michigan‘s Robert W. Smith and Norbert Schwarz showed that one kind of “ask” was problematic. If a charity focused on “raising awareness,” and the charity was well known to the potential donor, then donations were lower than if they highlighted other goals. In essence, it seems, if you are quite aware of a charity, you are less likely to donate when “increasing awareness” is a stated goal (even if that happens to be an important and real objective). There’s an implicit assumption that if you know about a cause, lots of other people do too, and spending money on raising awareness is wasted.
  • What a donor says they’ll do, and what they actually do, can be entirely differentHere’s an example: in almost every focus group I’ve moderated, someone has said “You (meaning the charity) send too much mail!.” Then, invariably, they’ll choose mail as their preferred form of communication at some other point in the conversation. Or, I was recently reading results from a poll where donors said they don’t place much importance on the thank you.Try taking away your donor thank yous and see what happensDo you have a big list of ‘do not mail’ donors? Some organizations have, after a number of years, sent a mailing to those donors. It’s done phenomenally well.
  • A Journey Inside your Donor's Brain, AFP Congress 2012

    1. 1. A Journey Insideyour Donor’s Brain Leah Eustace, CFRE AFP Congress 2012 Twitter: @LeahEustace
    2. 2. Emotion drives action
    3. 3. Engage the emotions
    4. 4. Giving makes donors happy
    5. 5. …and it makes them live longer
    6. 6. So, giving donors theopportunity to investin your organization is, in reality, doing them a favour
    7. 7. Moral identity matters “Thanks for calling and becoming a kind and caring WFIU donor” Those two words increased giving by 21%amongst female donors (no impact on males).
    8. 8. Donors experience psychic numbing “If I think of the mass I will never act, if I think of the one, I will”
    9. 9. We really don’t make any senseGive $10 million to fight a disease claiming 20,000 lives and save 10,000. orGive $10 million to fight a disease claiming 290,000 lives and save 20,000.
    10. 10. The case of Karen Klein
    11. 11. Stories are powerful
    12. 12. Stats depress response versus
    13. 13. Our brains change as we age
    14. 14. Design is really important
    15. 15. And so is readabilityIf your fundraising messages has a grade level higher than 7, it will draw alower response than one written at 7 or less. It’s a tested reality.
    16. 16. Obama is really good at this
    17. 17. MRI’s of Donor Brains
    18. 18. Speaking of planned givingDonors have noidea what thosewords mean
    19. 19. 95%of planned gifts are bequests
    20. 20. Why, not how
    21. 21. Telling someone your goal makes it less likely to happen
    22. 22. Be cautious aboutraising awareness
    23. 23. Beware of what donors say
    24. 24. Leah Eustace, CFREChief Idea Goddess, Good Works @LeahEustace leah@goodworksco.ca