What Do Oxytocin and Cortisol Have to Do With Fundraising?
Sometimes, I just feel like I don't know as much as I thought. I am absolutely impressed with the study that is described in this YouTube video.
Don't let the title of this blog post scare you off. And, watch the whole video to understand the lengths these researchers went through to understand what really happens to someone when that person hears a story and how "Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc" truly affect fundraising.
Here's the summary:
- The first part of the video is actually a story about a father and a son, and the dynamic between them and some key emotions. For those of you who don't like sad stories — do not close out of the video. It is just a setup to how the researchers conducted their study and what they showed their study participants.
- The art of storytelling is, indeed, more than just art. There is a proven approach and process to good storytelling. The challenge is that in this study, people had a hard time explaining how they truly felt after hearing the story, but it was clear they were impacted by the story.
- The science part of this study identified that the people hearing this story had two chemical releases in the bloodstream.
- Cortisol was released in the subjects, and this is associated with the ability to focus and pay attention. However, the connection to the story was around the distress the person experienced when hearing the story. The more distress people felt, the more cortisol they released, which caused them to focus more intently on the issue.
- Oxytocin, which is associated with care, connection and empathy, was the second chemical released by the subjects studied. The more empathy with the story they felt, the more oxytocin they released.
But the study doesn't stop there. After researchers understood the chemical reactions that were happening during the storytelling, they added the opportunity to "share money" with a stranger and/or make donations.
I'm not going to ruin it for you — you have to watch the video. But I will say that the amount of the two chemicals discussed above (associated with distress and empathy) had an impact on the amount (and became predictive) of money shared/donated.
Why is this interesting enough to write a blog about? First, it is really cool information. But second and most importantly, this study highlights that the proper framework for a story does matter. Based on the work of German novelist and playwright Gustav Freytag more than 150 years ago, the dramatic arc is considered today to be representative of the key elements that must be present in a story. The reader needs to move through these stages of a story, and in the end, what we know now is that this ultimately leads to the chemical reactions that drive behavior.
See for yourself — and then go look at your last fundraising story and see if you have all the elements of the dramatic arc.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.