Will This Bad Fundraising Idea Ever Die?
It's not the worst idea in fundraising, but if years of research are right, it's bad enough to matter.
This bad idea has proved amazingly sticky, especially in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. In fact, it's so widely accepted, I'm not sure that it's even been tested in a head-to-head match-up.
The bad idea is this:
A strong fundraising message requires a mix of heart and head. You have to give donors and prospects facts and statistics to show them the scope of the problem. And you have to touch their emotions with stories that motivate them to give.
Increasingly, fundraisers are coming to understand that telling emotional stories improves results.
But we're not yet ready to hear that numbers can actually hurt them.
When NPR aired a piece a couple of weeks ago called "Why Your Brain Wants to Help One Child in Need But Not Millions," everyone was talking about it. Here's the core of the report:
"In one study, (psychologist Paul) Slovic told volunteers about a young girl suffering from starvation and then measured how much the volunteers were willing to donate to help her. He presented another group of volunteers with the same story of the starving little girl — but this time, also told them about the millions of others suffering from starvation.
"On a rational level, the volunteers in this second group should be just as likely to help the little girl, or even more likely because the statistics clearly established the seriousness of the problem.
"'What we found was just the opposite,' Slovic says. 'People who were shown the statistics along with the information about the little girl gave about half as much money as those who just saw the little girl.'"
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.