How to Insert Emotion Into Major Gifts
You can feel deeply about the work that you do, no matter if it is about people, animals, the earth or even inanimate objects — like a piece of art or the work of an architect.
Whether you are in social services, relief and development, education, the environment, some form of medical research or care, or any of the scores of nonprofit causes that exist today, no matter what it is you do, you can feel deeply about it. You just need to let yourself do it.
Any type of major donor communication must have emotion in it if it is to successfully make an impact on a donor. Facts and figures tell, emotion sells. It is the heart that carries the donor toward a decision. Leave it out at your peril.
But how can you be more effective at inserting emotion into your major gift communications without manipulation? Here are some tips:
1. Learn to Feel the Emotion Yourself
You must start here because you can’t speak or write it if you, yourself, don’t experience it. And it does take practice. Here is what Jeff and I suggest you do: Get a fix on the core thing your nonprofit does. Identify the situation you are addressing. What problem does addressing this situation solve, or what benefit is provided to society or the planet? What if no one addressed this situation or no one provided this benefit — what would happen?
If this mattered to you, how would you feel about it, and what emotion would you experience? Spend some time on this to take in the emotions related to your cause.
2. Ask Beneficiaries What Would Happen If No One Did What you Are Doing
I say “no one” because a frequent retort to my statement of “what would happen if your organization did not exist” is “well, another organization would pick up the slack.” And this kind of thinking short circuits any attempt to understand and feel the consequences a need not met. So, sit with those beneficiaries and set it up this way: “Let’s say no one on the face of the earth is doing what we are doing. What happens to you, and how do you feel about it?”
If your cause is about providing food, someone may starve or be malnourished. If it’s shelter, they will be exposed to the elements and they may die. If your cause is about the environment, talk to an environmental activist and say: “if this lake is not cleaned up, what will happen and how do you feel about it?” Or if you are in education say: “If this curriculum or this course of study was not provided by anyone, what would happen and how do you feel about it?” Or the arts: “If no one ever composed or performed this type of music, produced this kind of art or performed this kind of play or opera, what would happen and how do you feel about it?”
When you do everything that I have written in this point, you have effectively taken yourself physically and emotionally to the frontline of need. And you have felt it and experienced the emotion of it.
3. Sit With These Feelings and Let Them Sink In
Learn to be comfortable with them. Make them your welcome friends. If you did what I have recommended in point No. 2, you are now truly feeling what the “need” is. It is the desperation of a mother who cannot feed her child. It is the terror of a refugee who has seen his entire family killed. It is the sadness of a conservationist who has watched the planet that she loves abused and mistreated. It is the loneliness and feeling of self-loathing that the small boy who has been bullied and abandoned feels. It is a world without music or art. It is the shame of a father who never could go to school and now is not able to find a job and provide for his wife and kids. It is the doctor or nurse that could not provide the life-saving care and now must watch as their patient suffers and dies. It is the animal lover who has seen a beautiful lion killed so his head can become a trophy. It is the injustice forced upon a young woman who is falsely imprisoned. It is everything on the planet that is wrong, bringing the hurt, pain and dysfunction that the brokenness and lack of wholeness brings. It is about potential unrealized joy and hope never found, and laughter squelched. Let all of this sink in. Feel it.
4. Insert the Experience You Have Had Into All of Your Communications
Because what you have effectively done, by going through the points above, is to allow yourself to feel deeply what others feel when life is broken. And now you must pass this on to your donors. So, when you write a proposal, prepare a presentation, create an ask — no matter what communication you are creating, you must “take the donor to the need” just as you have taken yourself. And you do this by talking about the problem or situation your organization is addressing, inserting a story that illustrates the problem (not the solution) and writing about the consequences that will happen if the need is not met.
This part is inserting emotion that demonstrates need. But emotion can also happen on the solution side. You should share the joy and the sense of hope the drug addict now feels because, with your help, he has found a solution. Or the mother who now has a job. Or the river that has been cleared of all pollutants. The education that has happened that has given a young person a chance in life. It is all of the good that has been done and the celebration that is occurring because a life, once on a ruinous path, is now restored and there now is brightness versus darkness. You should insert emotion into these stories as well, celebrating life, solutions, redemption and new beginnings. Don’t just tell the facts like “with your generous gift we did X.” Get emotional about it. There is good news here! Shout it out.
This is how you take facts and figures and put emotional clothes on them. And this is not about manipulating your donors. It is showing them what really happens when the need grips and person or the planet and causes darkness. And it is what really happens when a solution is secured. It is real life. Real feelings. Not conjured up drama. Real life.
So, jump in and feel deeply. Then pass it on to your donors. Things will never be the same.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.