Head or Heart When Appealing to Donors? (Part One-The Heart)

There is no doubt that attracting and retaining donors is front of mind for all nonprofits, particularly given the struggles of our current economy. Beyond the traditional methods, some new players in the sector have developed online applications for reaching out to donors. Interestingly, however, these Internet-based approaches can differ quite dramatically in how they woo potential givers. Two organizations in particular come at donors from almost opposite angles: one strikes at the heads of donors, with a more investment advisor approach, using statistics, measurements and hard data; the other strikes at individuals’ hearts, using stories and ratings to intrigue donors. Although both would probably agree that, in reality, donors rely on a mix of the two in making their charitable giving decisions.

Winning their hearts
According to Wharton professor Deborah Small, organizations that want to raise money should appeal to the hearts of potential donors, not their heads. The study she conducted, along with co-authors George Loewensteinb and Paul Slovic, shows that when making charitable gifts, “most people probably do not calculate the expected benefit of their donation. Rather, choices are made intuitively, based on spontaneous affective reactions."

Examples cited by the study include, according to the publication Knowledge@Wharton, “several well-known examples of large sums of money being donated to help identifiable victims. In 1987, a child named Jessica McClure, dubbed "Baby Jessica" by the news media, fell into a well near her home in Texas and received nearly $700,000 in donations from the public. Ali Abbas, a boy who lost both his arms and his parents in the Iraq War in 2003, was the subject of widespread media attention in Europe and received some $550,000 in donations. Even animals generate sympathy: In 2002, more than $48,000 was contributed to save Forgea, a dog stranded on a ship adrift in the Pacific Ocean.”

In the Knowledge article, Small suggests that there are important take-aways from the study for charitable organizations. "It's all about putting together a simple, emotionally compelling message. The best way to do that is in the form of a picture or a story, something that purely engages the emotional system. The mistake that many charities make is trying to appeal both to emotion and to reason. They assume this would be more effective than appealing to only one or the other, but it isn't."

Perla Ni also believes that donors will respond best to the stirring stories of nonprofits, and founded the organization GreatNonprofits to enable nonprofit stories to be told. Founder and former publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Ni states on her organization’s website, “It struck me, as I struggled professionally to find great nonprofits for our magazine [Stanford Social Innovation Review] to write about, that there needed to be an online "Zagat," if you will, for nonprofits that would collect stories and reviews of people—people like me, the victims of Katrina, and hundreds of thousands of others—who have seen the impact of nonprofits up close, and can speak personally and firsthand about it.”

The mission of the organization is GreatNonprofits is to:
• Help inspire and inform prospective donors and volunteers, help them differentiate between nonprofits, find ones that they trust, and be more confident in giving or signing up to volunteer.
• Enable great nonprofits, regardless of the size of their marketing budget, to harness their most authentic and most effective advertising - the stories of the people they’ve served.
• Promote greater nonprofit excellence through feedback and transparency.

GreatNonprofits uses a model similar to TripAdvisor, Epinions or Yelp that rely on people who have actually interacted with an organization to post reviews and ratings. In the case of GreatNonprofits, these people might be volunteers, board members, staff members or clients of the nonprofits. An example is the reviews of MusicLink Foundation from both clients and volunteers. So far, this charity has a five-star rating based on three reviews. Reviews of other nonprofits are not all positive, as clients who have less than satisfactory interactions are free to post their thoughts as well.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 1:00 AM, Apr 30, 2008 in Accountability | High Net Worth Donors | Performance Measurement | Philanthropic Strategy | Scaling Philanthropy | Social Entreprenuers | Technology | Permalink | Comment