Knowledge vs. Inertia: Are Fundraisers Ready for the New Era of Insight?
Did you hear about the "enclothed cognition" study that says how you dress can affect whether you make smart or dumb decisions?
Or the one that says women who touch men's boxer shorts are more likely to take financial risks with money than those who do not?
Or the one that says posting a Facebook picture of yourself with a group of friends makes you look more attractive than a posting one of yourself alone?
You can hardly open the paper or turn on the radio anymore without hearing of some new study about human behavior and motivation. Brain research is all the rage.
Scientists and researchers are making a raft of new discoveries about how and why people do what they do. A lot of those discoveries are turning conventional wisdom on its ear ... in ways that are highly relevant to direct marketers. Just a few weeks ago in this space, I wrote about research challenging the generally accepted idea that successful fundraising appeals must appeal to both the heart and the head. Is it true? Who knows? Or, more to the point, who's finding out?
Sure, some of these new studies seem questionable at best — as much like exercises in creative grant writing as serious research. But not all of them by a long shot. And the sheer number of them (just follow Scientific American's "Mind-and-Brain" articles to see what I mean) suggests the advent of a new era of knowledge about human motivation and response. Knowledge that just might be game-changing for those marketers and fundraisers willing to explore and test it.
Think about this: Around the turn of the 20th century, a handful of pioneers like Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck, J.C. Penney, and Aaron Montgomery Ward brilliantly combined psychological advertising with recent advances in mail delivery. They created the modern world of direct marketing.
Half a century later a new generation of groundbreakers including Richard Viguerie, Roger Craver, Morris Dees, our founder Jerry Huntsinger and a few others integrated the new technologies of their era and took direct marketing to a much more sophisticated level.
And because these were men with strong, if dissimilar, social consciences (and because it was the 1960s), they also used their skills to usher in a new era of nonprofit fundraising.
Now another 50 years have passed. Today's game-changing technology is all about information.
We're collecting data that is more detailed, comprehensive and "segmentable" than ever before. And now we're seeing the opportunity to combine all that data with rapidly emerging information about new ways to understand and motivate donors.
Individually, some of these studies may seem downright goofy. But, taken in aggregate, we dismiss them at our peril. Those who embrace these new discoveries have the opportunity to take our industry into its own new era of fundraising.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.