Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Making donors cry won't work

This won't work forever
Here's another blast from the past. I ran this blog a long time ago and it seem to click. Take a look again and see if you find it still has the same BITE!

Maybe you’ve heard this one before. Some ad guru tells you that your fundraising advertising isn’t “emotional” enough. People give because of their emotional ties to your charity, she says. That means you need more “poor African children” content and less of the logical stuff that explains things. More stark pictures of people suffering, less pictures that show what you do. More on the problem, less on the solution.

These people might have a point to some degree, but the long and the short of creating fundraising advertising is that it must be a fine balance between emotion and logic, problem and solution.

The “emotion trumps everything” school of thought ignores the way people actually think. As my consumer marketing hero Gerald Zaltman says donors don’t actually think in a rational, linear way. People’s emotions are closely interwoven with reasoning, he says in his book Home Consumers Think. Although the brain has separate structures for processing emotions and logical reasoning, the two systems communicate with each other and jointly affect our behaviour.

Zaltman also points out the obvious – the understanding of emotions in an ad campaign is often superficial. Real emotions are far more complex. What about those ads on TV showing third world children? We know it has an impact on us seeing these children in poverty, but what is the real emotion in play? Guilt? Brotherhood? Piety? Compassion?

Then there’s the problem of “shock and awe” emotional pictures, like those often used by charities that help kids in third world countries. They initially work, but their value fades. If you see ten pictures of third world starvation by the tenth one your mind has taken over and begun to numb you to its effects. The glut of such images on TV serves to lower their impact overall. It is sad to say, but too much of the reality of the third world actually can serve to turn us off donating to help the kids who live there.

That leads to the issue of whether it is better to show the problem or the solution. This is more tricky. Like the “emotion” argument, an ad that paints a very real problem gets more attention. But here, too, there are challenges. Donors don’t give to problems, they give to solutions. Saying I bought a well so that a third world village can get clean water is more powerful a message than one that says I stopped that bad thing. That’s because donors know that usually the “problem” can’t be solve entirely. There will likely be third world poverty tomorrow and the next day, even if you donate. So, accenting the problem in your ad may actually serve to underline the fact that the problem can’t be solved at all.

The way to structure your fundraising ads is to find a balance. Yes, you do want emotion – in your pictures, in your words, in the testimonials you run. But you need to present the logic of your appeal at the same time. One needs to work closely with the other. Yes, you do need to present a problem, but you also need to tell your donors how the act of giving can provide a solution. And be honest in saying how much of a solution a donation can buy. Perhaps a donation can only help one child, one family or one village. Don’t make it sound that a donation will save the world if it won’t.

And if you want to see a good example try World Vision. While you're there you can make a donation and change the world.

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