You’re a nonprofit insider. So you already know how significant people’s emotions are when it comes to supporting your mission. But have you ever thought about whether those emotions can be quantified?
That’s actually the aim of Proof Positioning, a market research company specializing in what they call emotional data.
With the help of Katie Lord, Proof Positioning’s VP of nonprofit development, I’ll explore how emotional data can help your nonprofit’s outreach efforts. I’ll also raise an intriguing question: How well do you really understand your donors’ emotions?
Plus, I’ll even share tips from Katie on one of my favorite topics: print collateral.
What Is Emotional Data?
Conventional wisdom says you can’t really capture emotion and quantify it the way you can with “hard” data — like the numbers that comprise a financial report. But Katie and the team at Proof Positioning think otherwise.
With the help of Likert scales, segmentation analysis and other survey techniques, Proof Positioning has developed groundbreaking research methods that can essentially quantify people’s qualitative, emotional responses. Katie describes it as “quantifying emotional resonance.”
Emotional data is especially important considering the research that shows people make decisions based on emotion, rather than logic, much more than previously thought. (Check out this post on a great Kirk versus Spock analogy that explains it.)
But maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, we’re a nonprofit. We not only know that emotion is powerful. We know the emotional reasons why people give.” But Katie suggests you may not know the emotions of your donors as well as you think.
The Emotional Edge: Who Found Success in 2020 and Why
Despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought for nonprofits, Katies says the organizations she worked with in 2020 actually performed well largely because they came to a deeper understanding of their donors and, more specifically, their emotions. Here are some key ways they did that:
Focusing on existing donors
Sure, acquisition of new donors is important, says Katie. “But from my perspective, the most successful nonprofits in 2020 were the ones that focused much more on retention by refining their messaging for existing donors.”
This approach also demanded that the nonprofits be more realistic about their audience. “Because your mission can have such a broad impact, it can be tempting to think that everyone is a potential donor. But that’s just not the case.”
Separating their own emotions from their donors’ emotions
It’s hard to be objective when you're so close to something, and for Katie, nonprofits are a great case in point: “The number one thing I hear from nonprofit clients is, ‘We know our organization inside and out.’”
But the danger there, she suggests, is that your organization’s reasons for existing might not necessarily be why people actually give. Nonprofit staff tend to assign their own values — and the emotions behind them — to their audience. And that’s where you can get into trouble.
In fact, Katie says, the reasons that donors give are sometimes so basic that you may even be a little insulted by them. But you need to know the real feelings behind their giving, otherwise you could end up selling the wrong emotions in your messaging.
Just how easy is it to pinpoint the right emotions? “We've done almost 400 studies on this, and when it comes to predicting what emotional message will be the most effective, the math shows that organizations aren’t very good at it,” says Katie.
Understanding why people really give
So how did these nonprofits reach a more accurate understanding of their donors’ emotions? Katie says it wasn’t about the big predictive analytics — the who, what, where, when and how. “It was the why.”
By surveying donors and analyzing their responses, among other strategies, the Proof Positioning team was able to help their nonprofit clients come to a more accurate understanding of why people were giving. “They could then create messaging that more effectively resonated with donors,” explains Katie.
Taking emotional control: DIY lessons for your nonprofit
So what about your nonprofit’s emotional data? Sure, an outside consultant is an option, but Katie says you can start implementing a more emotionally informed approach to your outreach efforts today. Here are a few suggestions:
Survey your donors
If you want to know what your donors are feeling, you need to be asking their opinions and listening. Katie suggests surveying them at least once or twice a year.
“Then consider the aggregation of the data. What does it tell you about why people gave, what they’re looking for from you and how you can best interact with them? This information is absolutely priceless,” says Katie.
But there’s more to the exercise than data mining, she adds. “When you ask donors for their opinion and they then take the time to give it — this process actually strengthens their bond with your organization.”
A simple and succinct message is more powerful
Katie also says to analyze the performance of your various efforts. “Identify the content that has generated results and pull out the core emotional messages that you could repeat over multiple channels,” she says.
And about that messaging, Katie emphasizes that you need to keep it distilled to something simple but powerful. “I think sometimes we can get a little wordy and over explain things. Or we get flowery or ambiguous. Instead, try to formulate an objective statement that gets to the heart of what you’re trying to accomplish.”
She adds that you need to do this for all of your audience segments. For example, you want a different message for your volunteers versus your monthly givers versus your major donors.
And once you identify messages for your target audiences, “Lean into them,” says Katie. “This is when you really do want to give your audience an Amazon-like experience. You should know what to suggest based on who the person is and the emotional messages that work for them.”
Special Note on Print Collateral in the Current Climate
As a donor research specialist, Katie keeps a close watch on the ebb and flow of marketing channels. For her, print collateral still remains an indispensable part of a multichannel approach, and she offers these tips:
- Double down on direct mail. “I think a lot of organizations in 2020 pulled back on direct mail when they shouldn’t have. For 2021, I would suggest doubling down on direct mail because people are getting bombarded with digital messages.”
- View print recipients as a more captive audience. A majority of people, Katie points out, open all of their print mail. That’s definitely not the case with email. “Even if a person is standing over their recycling bin, there's still that act of going through and opening messages. There is power in that.”
- Know that print has appeal across generations, including Millennials. “So many people say Millennials hate direct mail. My experience shows that’s just not true.” Katie says her company’s research also consistently demonstrates that most people still welcome direct mail.
- You can personalize like never before. The days of “Dear friend” are over — or at least they should be, Katie says. “With the technology available today, you should be able to drop details into a mailer that personalize it and really make it donor-centric.”
- Apply the less is more adage (especially with facts and figures). The piece should lead with a strong emotion. “Don’t let too many statistics eclipse what you can do with an emotional personal story,” says Katie.
Quantify Emotions, Don’t Assume
Let’s come full circle with the topic of emotional data. Are you assuming you know your donors’ emotions, or are you quantifying them?
Let’s be honest: This past year has compelled all of us to question our assumptions, hasn’t it? This could actually be an ideal time to rethink what you “know” about your audience’s emotions. Using Katie’s insights could be an excellent way to take that first step!
Chris Yuhasz is president of POV Solution. Based just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, POV Solution is a community-focused printing company that helps nonprofits across the country stand out in their offline communications efforts as well as integrate them with multichannel marketing strategies.