Fundraising and the Backward Brain
People give when their hearts are touched. They give because it feels good to give. They give because of what giving says about them — either to others or to themselves. They give because their priests, or mothers, or neighbors, or a celebrity told them to give. Donors do indeed want efficiency and efficacy — but those things don't motivate action. Fundraising based solely on rational reasons for giving simply doesn't work.
Flip No. 5: Numbers vs. stories
Another direction used to guide the copy was: "Avoid schmaltzy emotional stories. Stick to numbers and facts." This was a second misuse of left-hemisphere thinking, which undervalues stories and imagery. People are not persuaded by numbers. In fact, the more numerical the problem, the less people are inclined to get involved. When confronted with the painful fact that something like 24,000 children die from hunger every day, donors are generally unresponsive. When they see the suffering of one hungry child, they are much more likely to give.
Quantitative, left-hemisphere problems remain abstract in people's minds. Human-sized, right- hemisphere problems stir compassion.
Flip No. 6: Length of message
Left-hemisphere thoughts almost always look reasonable — because they are reasonable. That doesn't make them correct. That was the case when the creators of Project X decided, "Keep the message short and to the point." Many facts seem to back this up, starting with the fact that most of us don't personally read long letters. And when you ask donors, they almost universally say they prefer shorter messages.
It just doesn't play out that way in practice. The meandering, repetitive style of long fundraising messages is better at activating generosity than just getting to the point. There are (rare) exceptions to this, but always test it before you assume short messages will work.