Will This Bad Fundraising Idea Ever Die?
Before subjects were ever exposed to the fundraising story, one group was asked to do some simple math problems, while the other was asked to make a list of "feeling" words.
Then both groups read the same letter. The people who had done math problems before they read the story donated far less money than those who had been primed with emotional language.
It seems that just turning on the analytical side of the brain — even outside the context of the appeal — is enough to reduce readers' generosity.
So, with clear evidence that statistics reduce gift size, why are we so afraid to let go of them?
In "The Tyranny of Dead Ideas," Matt Miller writes, "We all know in our own lives how powerful the inertia of a Dead Idea can be, though it's often only in retrospect we appreciate how hard it was to recognize."
In his book "Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy," Bill Clinton puts it even more succinctly, "The status quo is represented by much more powerful lobbying groups than the future."
It's a maxim that fundraising is counterintuitive. Yet we stay wedded to intuitive, reasonable, "logical" traditions, even when we know they don't work.
There's a lot of talk about the need for innovation in fundraising. As there should be. But before new ideas are introduced, we should make sure the old ideas from which they spring are true. Putting the conventional wisdom about facts and emotion to the test would, in my opinion, be really innovative.
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.