In this webinar, Tom Ahern will show you how to connect far more profoundly with your donor base, improve retention, raise gift averages as well as response rates, and raise more money!

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Tom, is it okay if I go ahead and kick this party off officially? Are you ready?

Tom: Yeah, launch.

Steven: Let’s do it. All right. Welcome, everyone. Good afternoon. Good afternoon, if you’re on the East Coast. Good morning, if you’re on the West Coast, I should say. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Identity-Based Fundraising: What 6 Years of Research Have Revealed.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the chief engagement officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

Just a couple of quick housekeeping items, want to let you all know that we are recording the session and I will be getting you that recording later on this afternoon as well as the slides if you didn’t already get those. Don’t worry if you have to leave early or if you want to review the content later on. I’m going to get you all that good stuff later this afternoon. Scout’s honor, just be on the lookout for an email from me with all that stuff.

But most importantly, use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. And a lot of you already have. If you haven’t, go ahead and introduce yourself. Tell us something about yourself, anything fun you want to tell us. But send in your questions and comments as well. We’re going to try to save a little bit of time at the end for Q&A. Can’t make promises to get everyone’s questions in, but we’d still like to see the questions, nonetheless. So do that. Don’t sit on those hands. You can also send those on Twitter. Well, I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed as well.

And if you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a little bit better quality. So give that a try before you totally throw your computer out the window or give up on us. Just check your email for an email from ReadyTalk and it’ll have a phone number in there that you can try if that’ll be comfortable for you. We’d love for you to try that.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra welcome to all you folks. We do these webinars basically every week throughout the year. In fact, we’re doing two webinars a week here in January. We’re kind of getting the year off on a strong footing here. So if this is your first webinar, welcome, we’d love for you to continue attending these. We love doing them here, but what we are most known for is our donor management software. So check that out. If you’re curious about us or maybe in the market for a software change here sometime in the near future, you can even watch a quick video demo and see it all in action. But don’t do that right now because Tom Ahern is here. Tom, how’s it going? You doing okay?

Tom: Oh, I am so eager to do this presentation.

Steven: I am eager to have you. You’re a fan favorite. You’re a friend to the program. I don’t even know. What can I say about Tom? Introducing him, wow. He’s my hero is the biggest thing. A giant in the industry. He’s helped so many people work through all these fundraising issues. Buy his books if you like this presentation. You’re going to like the presentation for sure. I mean, anytime “The New York Times” says that you’re one of the most sought after creators of fundraising messages, that’s pretty good and that says it all right there. Tom, you barely need any introduction, so I just want people to hear from you. So I’m going to pass you the baton and tell us all about this research. Just take it away, my friend.

Tom: Yeah. Okay. Well, first of all, this is, you know, I created the most boring title possible six years of research. It’s like, oh, yeah, I want to go to that. And yet, over 1600 people have registered for this and some of them are on the call live. Some of them will be listening later. And the little guy you see there with his finger up in the air, that’s to indicate that we are talking about science today. Not my opinion, anybody’s opinion, your boss’s opinion, your board’s opinion, and those opinions. We’re trying to slowly erase them from the nonprofit world just because they’re basically killing us.

I want to establish one fact right away and that is this fact. And if you’ve seen any of my other presentations or read any of the books, you will have run across this again, and again, and again, and again, and again. It didn’t occur to me early in my career, but it did occur to me about 10 years ago that really if you were kind of trying to find what’s the bull’s eye, why are we bothering about donor communications? Why do we do this stuff? There was really only one reason that I could think of. If you made this a multiple choice and you put it in front of staff, the choice they might choose is, it’s to make money. And that is certainly the ultimate goal of donor communications. But the real goal is to make your donor feel good. So anything you’re sending out, whether it’s print or digital, what you put up on your website, all of that has one goal, and that is to make donors or people who might become donors feel good, not think about things, but feel good.

We treat fundraising as something of a rational enterprise and, you know, we’re thinking, “Well, do they have enough money?” So we do wealth screening. If we explain our wonderful programs, they’re going to go, “Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I should help,” etc. And almost none of that is true, not in real life, not in . . . This is a consumer decision making a gift. And consumers make all their decisions basically based on their emotional response to . . . So when I’m saying yes, I’m not saying yes to your argument, I am saying yes to some way that you connected me, which is the topic, of course, of today’s presentation. So six years, minimum six years of research have gone into this.

What you’re looking at that beautiful scene in the distance there that is Loch Ness. And if you can just look around the tree, you’ll see the head of the monster. And on the left is The Inch, which is a hotel there. And at The Inch, every year, in March, early March, there is a, well, just, we’re only in year two, so I shouldn’t say every year, but there’s a two and a half day kind of download from the scientists about what research has discovered in fundraising during the last 12 months or so. And what you’re seeing today is a distillation of that. And this, first of all, I want to say thank you for being such a wonderful big audience because it inspired me to just completely redo this show, add all sorts of new stuff into it for you, hoping that I can somehow, you know, transfer it to you.

Now, one of the things that was said at The Inch in 2019 by Jen Shang, she’s the psychologist who specializes in philanthropic behavior. Why do people give? What are the, you know, the internal, the mental motivations? And she was talking about self-identity, you know, and here she’s saying that when my self-identity, self-definition includes the charity I give to, in other words, you know, most donors give to multiple charities but they have their favs and their reasons they have those favs and then they have the rest of the guys. So if myself definition includes your charity, then, in fact, what I’m doing is giving to myself, which is a powerful, powerful insight into the real reasons why people give.

So let’s continue now with some of the principles behind the identity-based research, identity-based fundraising. Each of us, we’re at least 6 to 10 identities. You’re probably a hundred entities, but there are 6 to 10 that are kind of nearer the surface that are easier or somewhat easier for a charity to connect with. And, by the way, these are not separate identities, they’re the mix that makes you the wonderful special person you are and the wonderful special person each donor is.

We choose these identities. And that’s very important to understand because, you know, I think charities are kind of assuming, well, you know, it’s like we’ll explain stuff and you will therefore choose us. The fact is the explanation part doesn’t matter all that much. I’m choosing my charities, the ones that we give to because of personal reasons, and that is true for everybody. And if you look at the rapid collapse of first-time donors, 8 out of 10, first-time donors don’t make a second gift. Well, why is that? Well, one of the reasons would be they made that first gift as kind of an impulse purchase, but it wasn’t a strong connection to them, a strong connection with their identity. And then you did a lousy job of, of, you know, cultivating them. I’m not pointing fingers here, but this is the industry. The industry does a really bad job at cultivating new donors. And so they don’t have any real reason to make that second gift, emotional reason to make it and they move on to another charity who might be a better lover.

And this is my wife a Sim One, we call her. Joyaux Sim One. Joyaux. And she happened to say this last year, “We choose our identities and then we wear them.” And then here’s what she met. So this is what Sim One wants. What happens? We were in Oslo in front of that famous picture called The Scream. And there’s Sim One reflecting on how well we’re doing electing women to top office. But that’s it. This is what an identity looks like.

Now, let’s probe a little bit. And I’m going to reveal here about our own financial planning and where we are in our lives. Seventy percent of our estate is going to go to our local community foundation, right? Okay. So that’s a fact. It’s in the will. It’s been in the will for a very long time. Now, why do we know our local community foundation? Because, you know, if you walk down the street in a city and just accosted passers-by and said, “Hey, can you tell me where the community foundation is?” Maybe 1 in 100 could even come up with any idea.

Now, we know what it is because, and look here, we’ve got four different identity connections to that community foundation. First of all, early jobs, we were getting our careers started ,and we were both in the nonprofit arts world. So that’s another identity. We’re arts lovers. We met in that world and then fell in love and now we’ve been married 34 years. That’s another identity. The fourth identity. The fourth identity is we didn’t, as it happens, have kids. Now, that’s not proven to be such a big problem because Steven named both of his children after us. So his kids are named Tom and Sim One. And we’re very pleased by that. He’s still not in the will, but we were happy about it. And that is an important identifier.

Now, here’s NextAfter, and these guys, I love these guys. They are, first of all, they’re on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me and yet we just love getting together and talking about stuff. They’re just interesting and they put this up on their website at one point. What makes donors give? And I added some voice balloons so you can kind of hear what’s in these people’s heads and you can see they’re only six. Well, you know, that’s . . . How much more do you need? You don’t need 12 ways to connect with me, you need a few ways that might connect with me.

All right. Let’s go back to each donor. It’s the sum of 6 to 10 identities. So you have these ways to connect with me and most of you have no clue where to start because, in part, you don’t do what marketers always do, which is survey their customers. Your donors are fundraising customers, and if you don’t ask them about themselves, you will never know. You’ll guess, but you won’t really know.

Now, let’s look at what happens when you do ask them about themselves. This is the first piece of research. I want to show you what it actually looks like. This is, as everybody out there probably recognizes right away, a reply device for a standard direct mail pack. Now, what isn’t standard about this is that this was actually a piece of research, a test done by Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang and they added something. It’s in that gray band there. You can see it has the typical affirmation statement at the top. “Yes, I want to help blah blah blah and I want to give hope,” but it also has, “Please pick any of the statements below that are true to you.” And it has two statements. And I want to explain what those statements are. So I’m going to blow this up a little bit. And now you can see what they are.

One of them is what is called in the research an identity statement, which is I identify as a Christian. Okay? And if that is the case, then I might tick that, “Yes, giving is a vital part of what being a Christian actually means.” Or the second one, we call this a connectedness statement. “Yes, I care passionately about the work of this particular group.”

Now, I’m going to go backwards for a second because I want to just point out, this is done at the point of giving. In other words, when I’m about to make the gift, if I’m going to make the gift, you’re also asking me for this little bit of information, but it isn’t that you really need the information in a normal surveying kind of data collection way, what you’re really getting me to do is think about my personal identity and I am saying something about that and I’m confirming it to myself.

Okay? So there they are. Here’s what happens. These are the returns. So this is response rate to a direct mail appeal. When you have identity and you don’t have identity questions on the reply device, when you don’t have any, you can see on the far right you get that percentage response rate. That’s actually a decent percentage response rate to a piece of acquisition direct mail. However, when you do have those identity in the connectedness statements, if they click both, you’re finding that the response rate has doubled, basically. And one of the things . . . That’s the name of this whole presentation at The Inch on Loch Ness is double your donations. That’s what it’s about. It’s how to double your donations by getting deeper into the hearts of your donors.

Let’s look at this in terms of something I just saw yesterday. And I was looking at this Habitat for Humanity Bucks County and I saw this . . . this was a one of the sliders on their homepage. It was an annual event coming up. And they, you know, it was so faith-based. Now, not all of their donors are faith-based, but that is an aspect of it. And for those people, you want to be able to give them something that they find especially appealing. And all those little red arrows, those aren’t there on the original. They are me pointing out some of the things that are here.

So, for instance, this is Faith Build 2019, now we’re doing it again in 2020, but if Faith Build 2019, everybody got this wonderful t-shirt and so they’re all showing that in the photo. “We need you,” which is very important language. Faith, the word Faith Build. And then you can not only give or, you know, hammer a nail or celebrate, you can pray, which, you know, I make no professions of faith, but I love working with faith-based groups because they use vocabulary I can’t use with any secular charity and it’s sticks. It’s cool.

Now, here’s something that was also on the homepage of the Bucks County Habitat for Humanity. And I was looking at it and thinking, I wonder, you know, because we all ask people to join our email list. That’s how one of our sales lead funnels. That’s how we bring new people in sometimes. And so could I ask an identity question there, not at the point of giving, but at the point of joining, we’re basically, they are giving you, they’re giving you your email address, giving you a little bit of their attention span and giving you a little hope that you might actually at some point turn them into a supporter.

Okay. Now let’s look at the different kinds of identities. There’s today’s identity. Who am I right now? Right at this moment, if somebody called and they asked me or something, you know, whatever, what would be my response? And in the upper left, that’s from Mark Phillips over in the UK, Bluefrog, that’s the typical donor in the United States, the UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. So there you go. And that’s what she looks like, and that’s the predominant gender.

Now, it says here, today’s identity, “Why would I mentally nod?” Let me explain mental nods to you because it’s important. This was a moment. This is a moment where you could really feel the ground shift. And it was back in the ’80s. Siegfried Vögele was working in Munich. He had a laboratory at a university there, and his specialty was direct mail. And so he’s studying it with cameras and he noticed that as people read direct mail, they would sometimes physically nod, but he said, “It doesn’t have to be a physical nod, a mental nod is just fine, but they do need to somewhat be going along saying, ‘Yeah, I agree. Yeah, that’s me. Yeah.'”

And so let’s look at what mental nods look like in the fundraising world. So this is the case for the Atheneum, and this happens to be the Atheneum on Nantucket and it’s been around for very, very long time. It’s kind of a quasi-socialist enterprise. Everything’s free. They are very much into education and into kids and all sorts of [respite 00:20:55]. But, you know, they have a building, which means that they need money because buildings are always falling down, etc., etc. So this is the cover of their case for support, a new campaign and the name Indispensable Atheneum. And, of course, this is going to people who are well-qualified because maybe they live on the vineyard or at least some of the time during the year live on the vineyards, one of the most expensive resort places on earth and they’re going indispensable.

“Hmm. Yeah, I’d call it indispensable.” That’s what a mental nod is. They see it and this is a place I’ve driven by 1,000 times, and they go, “Oh, yeah, I love the look of that place. Mm-hmm.” That’s a mental nod too. So in some ways, another thing I want to point out here is that location matters to charities, especially local and regional charities. You know, if you’re asking for money for a food bank in my town, yes. If you’re asking for money for a food bank in the next town over, maybe not because I don’t live in that town. It’s not me.

Okay. So let’s continue. Here’s a Humane Society. And this is the draft of a cover for their case. I just threw this together to show them what the idea was. So don’t, you know, look at this graphically, but do look at in terms of its elements. Basically, we know there were cat people and dog people. And so we have a dog and a cat on the cover. There are probably, you know, there’s minor groups too like the gerbil people. But these are the major groups. The word “you” is the focus of the headline. It’s right in the center, we, the cat and the dog, need you for something big. And so that word “you” and the reason it’s got a red arrow pointing at it is because that’s about the donor. That’s how I know as a casual reader, “Oh, you mean me? All right, I’ll stop and maybe pay more attention.”

This is the NRA off their homepage a while back. I don’t know if it’s still there, but it was perfect in a way. You we study success and the NRA is really good at raising money and here’s how they do it. The NRA, our rights, second amendment, are under attack like never before. So, you know, anger, fear, urgency. Join today, join. That’s a mental nod moment.

Let’s look at another example. This is PETA of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and at their top of their homepage. Remember, these are home pages. This is where the front door. Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way. And if you’re mentally nodding with that statement, there is a little green arrow that points at the bunny who is staring you in the eye over the Donate Now button. Very tight, you know, efficient piece of communications.

Something else that Jen talked about at The Inch. She was talking about . . . here’s a little kind of casual test you can do. Read stuff and kind of listen quietly for when your heart beats a little faster because that’s when your emotional connection is made. And they did an interesting test. So they passed out a newsletter to everybody. Everybody got the same newsletter, and it had a terrible front-page story and she said, “Just read it.” And then she asked, “Okay, so hands up, where did your heart start beating a little faster?” And what was interesting, because it’s very limited seating there. About 25 people can be accommodated. It was like all over different places. Some people was the picture, which, of course, is the first thing anybody looks at. Some people, it was a word in the headline. Some people was a quote, you know, four paragraphs down, etc., etc. So it can be a lot of different places, but you do need that connection to make that heart beat faster.

Okay. So here’s something I need to pass along to the world. And it was given to me as a gift by a, this guy you see on the screen, Richard Radcliffe, who’s a researcher in London, based in London. And Richard has the distinction of having interviewed through focus groups, over 25,000 donors about their motivations for giving. And we were coming out of midnight mass in Amsterdam. Well, okay, we’re coming out of a bar in Amsterdam, and he said this, I happen to have, you know, as I always do, because I’m a writer. I had a pen and a little notepad and I wrote it right down. This is verbatim out of his mouth, “Donors are staggeringly ignorant of the causes they support, and they’re staggeringly ignorant.”

Yet he did not mean that was a bad thing. He meant lucky us. We don’t have to educate our donors. They are coming to us fully-equipped. Their brain is already stuffed with all sorts of things that make up their identity. So they were raised with certain values, they believe in certain things, they have had certain experience. Traumas are very important in fundraising. Whatever bad happened, I want it not to happen to somebody else. The way I was brought up, you know my regrets, I shouldn’t have done that. Well, I’ll make up for it now. Fears, anger, hopes, and empathy. And that’s where we get into species identity, which is the next identity. Species identity is, yes, I’m a human. This is what humans have.

Now, we don’t actually think about this consciously, but it’s packed in there. Every gift is the result of 15 million years of brain evolution. And what is happening there, first of all, in biology, is we have empathy, most animals do not. They will eat their young. We take care of our young. The feelings of compassion, feelings of cooperation. I mean, you’ve read in the newspapers, you’d think that the human race sucks, but that’s not true. It’s just that’s how they sell newspapers.

Boastfully, we kind of more or less, generally speaking, get along and make things together, that’s why civilizations grow, and grow, and grow, and emerge and evolve. And plus, we have these chemicals in there. We’re not making these decisions rationally. We’ve got chemistry going on, oxytocin and other drugs are in your brain that they feel these are the feel-good drugs. And when you make a gift, three different drugs are released. And that is a powerful motivator. And, by the way, it’s a powerful motivator for monthly giving because if I’m giving to you annually, I get those three drugs once. If I give two monthly, I get those three drugs every month, 12 times. Much better deal.

Okay. So here’s the cuteness factor. This is, again, biology. This is in biology. This isn’t a name that was made up. The young look different than the adults as you can see here for a reason, and that is what we call being cute is actually a biological signal to the older, the adult to take care of the young who are still vulnerable and still need us, right? And so, when a charity like this one, which is Vida Joven, and I’ll give you this charity in a nutshell. One of my favorite charities in the last couple of years I discovered. Vida Joven is a orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico.

Now let me go off that a little bit. Tijuana, Mexico is now officially in 2020, the most dangerous city on earth. These are . . . in terms of getting killed. These are children without parents on the streets. They’re orphans, totally vulnerable. And Vida Joven gets them off the street, gets them fed, clothed, and gets them into school. And now they’ve been around long enough so they can say, honestly, most of them ultimately grow up and go to college.

How about that for impact? A child that was an orphan in the most dangerous city on earth becomes a college graduate. So, you know, this is why I love them. And they’re very straightforward. They love to tell you what a wonderful person you are and so forth. But this was their homepage at the time I did the screen grab. Very simple, a child mostly looking you in the eye, “Will you keep me safe?” You have just two options. Donate Now or Find out More FAQs.

All right, so that was brilliant. Here’s something else you need to know about us, about yourself. Not other people, particularly you’d notice. This is a Victor Frankl. Now, Victor had the misfortune to be a Jewish psychiatrist in Vienna when the Nazis rolled in and he and his entire family, except for one sister who had already emigrated to Australia ended up in the camps. He was, as far as I know, was the only one of his family to survive those camps. And he came out the other end liberated by the allies. And he was a scientist. I mean, he already had established a reputation as a psychiatrist when he was imprisoned and in the camps, he noticed something cause he’s a scientist. He’s observant.

What he noticed was that anybody who had any sense of purpose tended to live longer. Now, it didn’t have to be a big purpose. Didn’t have to be, “Oh, I’m going to be president someday.” It could be, “I’m the person who makes sure the door is locked or closed at night, you know, when lights out.” That kept them alive longer and he came to the conclusion published later. And, by the way, if you haven’t heard of him, he’s quite famous. “Humans need purpose.” Okay, well wow, that’s an interesting thing. Okay. Humans need purpose. Keep that in mind.

Let’s go back to why we have so much of our estate going to charity. That’s because we didn’t have kids. And that’s the number one indicator according to Russell James who is in the School of Business somewhere, University of Texas, and I forget. Childlessness, as he calls it, is the number one thing. Now, why is it so compelling? Because there are a couple of things going on. First of all, a lot of us, most of us may be in this country, anyway, we’re raised on the Bible, which says, you know, be fruitful and multiply. So that’s what your job is as a person.

And frankly, Darwin came along, you know, blew up everything, but did say, “Oh, by the way, that’s right. Your basic job is continuity of the species. So yeah, reproduce. Thank you.” And so, if you don’t have children, what is your purpose? Now, you’re kind of, you know, at loose ends. Well, that’s where you can step in because you can give me purpose, right? I have other identities that I am very strongly bonded to my social identity, for instance, where do I live? What country do I live in? What location do . . . I live in new England. I live in a little state, Rhode Island. So those two things or social identities, I live in the United States, feel grateful about that. My education made a huge difference to my life. In terms of my economic status, there are people that I admire. I want to act like them. You know, etc., etc., etc., etc.

These are what are called in psychology, synthetic families and synthetic families are very powerful, very much a part of everyone’s identity. And I’ll show you this. These are two of my synthetic families. These are the two schools I got my bachelor’s, master’s, and certificate in advertising art from, and those made my career. And, you know, my dad worked in a factory all his life and yet I don’t because of the school. So am I grateful? Absolutely, big time grateful.

Now, another thing that’s part of my personal identity is this because as I was growing up, my dad, Irish-American. His parents had died in the great flu epidemic. And he often talked about these signs being up all over Boston, help wanted no Irish need apply. And so I had a very strong sense of, you know, the injustice of that. And frankly, you know, the whole immigrant debate for me comes down to this and it’s like, no, get the, you know, we like immigrants. Canada does, anyway.

All right. So here’s something else. They share your beliefs. This is from Adrian Sargeant’s seven loyalty factors. What are those? Those are the seven reasons he was able to discover in his research that caused people to stick longer with the charities they gave to. So they’re going to stay with you longer and that means their lifetime value is going to increase. And what is driving that? They share your beliefs. That’s just one of seven, but that’s the only one you’re going to see today. And one of those is, of course, the obvious religion. And so Gallup, for years, and years, and years, decades has been asking the American public, is religion important in your daily life? And then they break it down, you know, to different types of religions and so forth. And that that factor is an interesting one to play with if you have that dimension. I’ll explain.

I was working with Volunteers of America. Now, I didn’t know this until I started working with them, and that was in 2019 that they were an offshoot of the Salvation Army. Now, I knew the Salvation Army was faith-based, but I had no idea the Volunteers of America, which is also huge and does all sorts of veterans housing, meals on wheels, and all sorts of other great things. I had no idea if they were also religious, at least in their foundation. But they are, and they never talk about it. And the reason they never talk about it is that all of the communications come out from the national and there are some parts of the country this works in, in some parts of the country, it doesn’t work in.

I’m going to, to jump ahead to slide 43 . . . Thirty-nine, 44. Who knows. Anyway, segmentation is required. You cannot do one-size-fits-all if you have a mixed donor base. Some people may be giving to you because of faith reasons. Some people may be giving to you for very different reasons. If you’re like, have a food bank or faith-based organization doing a food bank, I’m giving because I don’t want people to go hungry. I don’t want children, particularly, to go hungry because it affects their education. It may not be at all because you’re, you know, whatever you are the Baptists or the Catholics or the Jews, you know, it’s just, that’s not the important part to me. What you are is a means to an end for me. I want to feed people who are hungry.

And so you do have to do segmentation. Now, this is some of the Gallup research they showed to the Volunteers of America. So, look, if you’re in the Southwest, so you’re in Arizona, New Mexico, maybe up into Utah, talk about religion, you know, at least survey to find out who out there in your database is religious versus who is not religious because what is driving that truck right now is new England, which is the godless Northeast that I live in. And 48% report, “No, I’m not religious.” So if you were to send out a direct mail appeal in New England talking about faith-based themes, you’re not going to get a great response. But if you do it in Arizona, you might get a great response. Okay, let’s go back.

So this is more of the same. This is a newsletter for Chabad on Campus. Why you are so integral to impact in Jewish lives. This works with a certain audience, the social identity of that audience being Jewish.

Here’s a different group, this is the American Bible Society. And look at that. This is from their annual report, and they do a lot of work in the camps, the refugee camps. Those are Syrian refugees that you see there. And this is, you know, “Jesus is my refuge.” Well, let’s look at that in context of what we now know. And what we now know is that may be a mental nod for people. And if you would add it to the reply device, “Jesus is my refuge,” Yes. Tick that box. You might have seen a bump in your response rate or your average gift or your overall, you know, amount of money coming in.

There’s another, this extremely important identity factor, and that’s your emotional identity. We are emotional animals. We believe, we assume, we pretend that we are rational animals and that is just not true. It is, if you’re an engineer, you’re, you know, the bridge can’t fall down. But for the rest of your life, you’re making a lot of emotional decisions.

Okay. So what does that look like? Well, you know, it could be anything. It could be anything that makes you feel good or bad. So in this case, McLean Hospital, which is a very, very old hospital dealing with mental health issues up near Boston had just completed a big capital campaign, and they had some quotes from donors. So this was somebody who gave money to that campaign. And what he was saying, basically saying, “This is the old me. I drank to ease my pain and I hated myself and I am so glad I am not that person anymore. And, you know, I’m going to express my gratitude through gift.”

Now, here are some of the common emotional triggers that everybody who is a trained direct mail writer learns pretty early. Because you really don’t need a lot more than this. You know, anger, duty, exclusively, these arranged alphabetically, not in terms of potency. And you usually use one or two or perhaps three. So you might start with, okay, I’m going to, you know, use an anger trigger, but I’m going to then give them a hope trigger. I’m going to give them a fear trigger or giving them a salvation trigger. Flattery is very useful. Guilt is not necessarily what those of us raised Catholic like me think it is. It is more, you know, I wish it weren’t like that for those people. I’m going to help them. Greed doesn’t have to be the negative greed, the seven deadly sins, greed. It is, “I want this to be a healthy planet, so I’m going to do something about that.”

You know, emotional triggers are very they’re very flexible. You know, these are here not to be a firm list of rules, these are the only triggers. Actually, psychologists have determined there about 140 shades of emotion. And so they’re all over the place. And what this is for is just kind of, this is a tip line. You know, “What could we do with anger? Okay, well, let’s see.” You know, and then you start thinking about that.

And I want to introduce you, take you back a little bit in time, and this is where fundraising started and why it succeeded so wildly and now it has succeeded wildly and yet we sort of forget what some of the roots of this are. Back to emotional . . . well, or species identity. Here’s the American Marketing Association. And they published this research. What they found was that if you used, in your acquisition, you used a photo of a sad child, you’d raise 50% more money than you would if you had a photo of a happy child or you had a photo of a neutral child.

Okay? So I don’t go, “Well, I don’t like that. I’m not going to use those sad photos.” I go, “Oh, that’s research. So you better deal with it.” And there’s more coming along because we’re now in the golden age of neuroscience. And one of the things that guy quoted in “Emotionomics, “which is a Dan Hill book, negative emotions are linked to survival and are much stronger, therefore, than positive emotions.

Now, the biggest problem in fundraising, in my view, anyway, is getting people off the couch and getting them to actually act on your behalf. That’s called inertia. It’s much easier to do nothing. And so most people do nothing. Therefore, you have to use these emotions. Now, the early days of fundraising, what you’re looking at here, these are Oxfam. Now, Oxfam today is a gigantic charity. It’s global everywhere. It’s everywhere, working everywhere, raising money everywhere, basically.

These ads go back to the earlier days, you can still see. It isn’t even called the Oxfam on the ad on the left. It’s called the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. That’s what it used to be called. And all they were doing is putting a . . . basically a documentary photo in front of you saying, “Okay, this is true and it’s really bad, right? And you’re a human. Will you do something about it? Do you have enough compassion to get off the sofa and make a gift?” And that is, I call it moral challenge fundraising. Now, you’re challenging me to be a moral person and, you know, it still works. Charities don’t like doing it and nobody likes doing it, but it is how you bring in new donors, right?

Okay. Let’s look at another example of things to avoid in this case because so many charities think, “Well, if I just give you enough service statistics, that will do the job and it might if you’re talking, reporting back to your grant funders, yes, they want that information. But individual donors are not persuaded by statistics for scientific reasons. Let’s get our little scientists back.

This is research done by a most magnificent psychologist Dan Ariely of Duke. And he was testing roughly how much money would come back if you just use the story of a single child in a bad situation that is in psychology, that has a technical name. It’s called the identifiable victim effect. That’s the bar on the left versus what happens if you explain to me that a child will be hurt and needs your help versus, on the far right, what happens when you mix those two together? So you’ve got a story, it’s true anecdote, but you’re also talking about data, you know, and not only is it this child, but it’s 1300 other children in this part of the country and so forth. Now you can see the bars are different heights and the bar on the left is the tallest by far. And that’s the one where you just had the anecdote about one child.

The bar in the middle, the lowest is where you try to be rational with me to explain it, explain, you know, give me some data and then the one on the right is what happens when you mix a data with anecdotes and it suppresses giving according to this Ariely research. Now, is it always right? No. But it’s right enough and you’ve got to be aware of it because a lot of groups like to put out something like this. This might be your annual report. It’s a number cloud, it’s a number cluster, and it doesn’t actually matter all that much to anybody but insiders. So the staff loves? Yeah. But for external audiences of individual donors, this is secondary information, not primary information and you don’t lead with secondary information. You always go primary first. And here’s the great neuroscientist, Paul Slovic out in University of Oregon said, “Statistics, well, they’re human beings with the tears dried off.”

Now, that said, you can use statistics but use them sparingly and use them well. I typically set a personal restriction. You can have one statistic. That’s it. And if you don’t have that one, fine, that’s good too. But, for instance, here, Urban Debate, which is a movement that has crossed the country in the United States over the last, I don’t know, 15 years, I’m not sure when they were founded, but it gets kids in inner city schools into debating topics and these kids are amazing to watch. And what is truly amazing about them, and that’s where a statistic actually is useful because it can summarize, 100% of them go on to college. Now, what that actually is not just the number, what that is also a before and after story. And that’s mostly what charities do. You have a problem and the charity or the cause is the solution. That’s a before and after story.

Okay. So we finally, well, we have two more identities to go through and we’ll get through them. This is the experience identity, what happened to me during my life. Okay? And that’s going to be driving a lot of my decisions. And so here’s a piece of data, recent data, 98% of sexually active women in the U.S. have used birth control at some point. Nearly one in four will have an abortion by age 45.

Okay. So now let’s look at a piece from Planned Parenthood. And this was a test. This thank you note was sent six weeks in advance of the year end appeal. And there was no reply envelope. It was, “Thank you for taking the time. I often write to you to ask for a gift, but not today. Today I want to tell you that you are the real gift.” Okay? And the letter goes on. It’s not a terribly long letter. And then six weeks later, the appeal itself does show up and it has in it a reply device that has this one extra box it that allows me before I make the gift to say yes, I think standing together with Planned Parenthood to guarantee safe, compassionate, affordable care is an important part of who I am. And those are the three most important words, who I am.

And here’s what we got from as a result. The people that got that extra thank you six weeks before and then got that reply device with that tick box, their average gift was just about twice as high as the average gift for those people in the test who did not receive those two extra things that were about identity.

Now, there’s also, and I’m going to end with this, tomorrow’s identity, which is, you know, we’re mortal. You know that, right? And one of the things you can do with bequest marketing is you can solve this problem. This is Claire Routley as you can see over in the UK. She specializes in bequests. We have this existential challenge. We know we’re mortal. We wake up thinking I’m going to die some day and then we push that out of mind and we, you know, have to-do list that’s miles long so we don’t have to think about it, and we watch TV compulsively and so forth and so on. But we’re all going to die someday.

And how do you deal with that? Well, the charity has a special offer for all of its supporters and it is part of a formula I love from Hilborn up in Canada, how to double your fundraising revenue. And you can see the thing in red, get 5% of your donors to include you in their wills. Okay? Is that hard? No, it is not hard because they’re already donors, therefore, they already know who you are and if they’ve been giving to you more than two or three or four times, they are actually loyal donors.

And this is the kind of advertising one does to such loyal donors, and I’ve labeled it. It doesn’t have all those voice balloons on it. I’ve labeled the various identity factors. Identity factor number one, “Oh, people just like me.” Identity factor number two, “I can leave a legacy? Wonderful.” Identity factor number three, “You can leave a legacy that will last forever. Yippee, Billy Graham.” “Yeah. I love Billy Graham. There he is in the Bible,” you know, so you gets at least five identity factors right there. Okay. That’s what we have to say today. What do we got for questions, Steven?

Steven: Wow, we got a lot of questions. That was a lot of good info there, Tom. I want to say thanks, first of all, before we get to any of those. Thank you. Thank you. Wow, that was awesome. And it prompted a lot of questions, so I’m just going to kind of pick out a few on here. A couple people, a few people pushing back on the stats. When should you use the statistics, Tom? Because I’m picking up what you’re throwing down, but is there a place for those stats anywhere? What do you think about weaving those kinds of things in?

Tom: They usually the last thing you need for individual fundraising. I got to leave it at that, Steven, because it’s just not all that important. If you don’t need them, then why do I care what you do with them, really? Okay. Let’s go on.

Steven: Let’s see here. This is referring to the Planned Parenthood example. Was there a large gift that was skewing that data, perhaps?

Tom: No.

Steven: Or there wasn’t . . . Okay. Wow.

Tom: This is mass market direct mail.

Steven: Okay. Here’s the question we get all the time. What if you don’t have the kids or the puppies? Maybe you do research or advocacy. How do you tell those stories with imagery? Is there a way to do that?

Tom: Yeah, I can raise money for any cause ever created. No, honestly, you know, and so can you, actually. There’s always a constituency out there that is what you’d call your predisposed people, the people who do care about this. Now, a lot of charities are laboring under the misconception that 100% of a population might give to them. You know, so if I’m in a town, 100% of the people in this town might give to me. That’s not true. Actually, all charities, all charities are supported by a fairly small number of true believers. And what you’re trying to do is find more of those true believers.

So if you have something to sell, now, you know, are you doing a good job of selling? Probably not. You know, some of the people that complain about, “Oh, we don’t have puppies and kittens,” basically, it’s like, “Yeah, I know, but who cares?” You don’t need puppies and kittens. You need a problem to solve. What’s your problem?

And, you know, for instance, I can’t even remember their name. Well, yeah, I just did remember the name, but I won’t say their name because I don’t want to make them embarrassed. But they’re a laboratory. And what they test for is, you know, how poisoned our various environments are. And one of the things they found was that, for instance, those places that McDonald’s with all those balls that throw your kids into and then go have a burger, they’re some of the most dangerous places on earth. They’re filled with toxins and, you know, and I said, “Well, fine. Nobody cares about the science. They do care about their kid being poisoned at McDonald’s.” So that’s what you talk about.

But no, we like to talk about the science. Well, you do because that’s what insiders do, they talk about the stuff, but the outside world, remember, staggeringly ignorant, they just want to be given an important job to do.

Steven: I love it. Segmentation, so people taking your advice of breaking up those audiences, the question is how different do those pieces need to be? I mean, it doesn’t seem like you need to be wildly different, but maybe.

Tom: No. I mean, look at what the examples were. We’re just basically talking non-religious versus religious. You don’t want to get too fine with this because it’s not going to give you these any great results. I mean, you’re not going to get terrific. If you can break it down into too low, you know, for instance, if you’re the NRA and you try to raise money from Brady Gun Control people, you’re just going to get a 0% response. So don’t do that.

Steven: Okay. I like that. I think some people are scared by segmentation, but it’s just a little . . .

Tom: No. Most of the time you don’t actually need segmentation, but if you are a mixed charity like a faith-based food bank, then you might want to explore it.

Steven: Got it. Makes sense. That makes sense. Okay. I know you got to run, Tom, and we’ve already taken up an hour of your time, but we got your website on the screen. How can people get a hold of you? What do you want them to do?

Tom: I want them to subscribe to my newsletter, and that’s Precious, our favorite cat.

Steven: Oh, that’s Precious?

Tom: She’s in cat heaven, by the way.

Steven: Oh, I’m sorry. I never knew that.

Tom: She’s gone to cat heaven. She was the nicest cat ever, ever, ever. Well, they’re all like that.

Steven: And she wore t-shirts for you. I mean, that says it all.

Tom: Well, it wasn’t our cat. That’s a loner cat. No, the owner created that t-shirt trained by Tom Ahern. Yeah.

Steven: I need that t-shirt.

Tom: Anyway, we loved her. She was a good cat.

Steven: Well, everyone should sign up for that newsletter. I love getting it. It’s awesome. I just put the URL in the chat there. I know we didn’t get to even 5% of the questions, so just try that newsletter.

Tom: Yeah. I’m sorry about that guys.

Steven: And a good Twitter follow too, if you’re a Twitter person. Definitely him.

Tom: Oh, yeah. I’ve got 2,500 followers come on in yet. I find Twitter to be the best place to find out new stuff in my profession because all the people I like following are there.

Steven: I love it. Yeah. Everyone should do that. Tom, this was awesome. I know you got to run, but thank you.

Tom: Thank you, Steven.

Steven: Thank you from the bottom of my heart from doing this and the rest of you.

Tom: Thank you all for coming.

Steven: Thanks for being here. Yeah, exactly. I know you’re probably busy.

Tom: I love it.

Steven: Maybe do acknowledgments, creating segments, whatever you’re doing out there. Thank you. We’ve got another great one coming up on Thursday. Like I said, two webinars a week this month. Our buddy, Lori’s going to talk about legacy case statements. So like Tom said, those bequests, real high ROI there. You’ve got to do it. It’s just millions of dollars sitting out there, and Lori is going to talk about that. So be here 2:00 Eastern on Thursday. If you can make it.

If you can’t, there’s lots of other sessions. We’d love to see you again next week or sometime in the future. But we’ll call it a day there. Look for the recording and the slides from me a little bit later on today. I want to do that right now, actually, and, hopefully, we’ll see you again Thursday, but if not, have a good rest of your week. Have a good weekend and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.