In this webinar, Claire Axelrad will show you smart, research-based tools to improve messaging and calls to action.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Claire, okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?

Claire: Yes.

Steven: All right, cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on the East Coast, and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Amping Up Your Fundraising Appeal’s Persuasive Power: Research from Psychology & Neuroscience.” Should be a cool one today. 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 housekeeping items before we get going here. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session, and I’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides, if you didn’t already get those, a little later on this afternoon. So if you have to leave early or if you want to review the content later on or share it with your friends, anything you want to do, you’ll be able to do that. I’ll send all that good stuff this afternoon. Just keep an eye out for an email from me.

Most importantly, as you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your screen. I know a lot of you already have. That’s awesome. We’d love for these sessions to be as interactive as possible, and we’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So send your questions along the way. Don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. We’ll see them, and we’ll try to answer them towards the 2:00 Eastern hour. You can do that on Twitter as well. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed, if you want to send us a tweet, if you’re into that kind of thing.

And if you have any trouble with the audio through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is a lot better, so try that before you totally give up on us. If you’ve got a phone nearby, if you don’t mind dialing in, if that won’t bother a co-worker, and that’ll be comfortable for you, give that a try before you totally give up on us. There is a phone number that you can dial into in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about half hour ago today, so give that a try.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra-special welcome to you all. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. I think we do 49 or 50 out of 52 Thursdays a year. We love it. It’s one of our favorite things to do here at Boomerang.

But what we are most known for is our donor management software. So, if you are interested in what we have to offer, maybe you’re thinking of switching sometime soon over the next year or so or even before the end of the year, check out our website. You can even watch a quick video demo and see the software in action. You can see all of our cool features. You’ll hear my voice in that.

But luckily, you’re not going to have to hear my voice for much longer because we have one of our favorite guests here joining us, a stalwart of the Bloomerang Webinar Series, one of my favorites, Claire Axelrad is here. Hey, Claire. How’s it going?

Claire: Hi, doing well. Happy to be here.

Steven: Yes, we love having you. I feel spoiled because you’re always so willing to do webinars for us despite being super busy and traveling and speaking at conferences and putting out your own content. So, it’s always appreciated that you’d join us, and this is going to be a fun one.

I just want to brag on you, Claire. For those of you who may be listening who don’t know Claire, maybe this is your first time hearing from her, I doubt it will be your last after you hear this one, because you’re going to want to check out her website, Great content, great newsletter too, which we are a proud sponsor of as well.

She has ton of experience. She’s been in your shoes. She’s got over 30 years of frontline development experience, raised a ton of money over her career. She was even named AFP’s Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year. She’s a CFRE. She’s a CFRE Instructor. So, she does not just talk the talk, but also walks the walk as well.

You’ve probably seen her by-line in many publications like “Nonprofit Pro.” She does lots of other webinars besides just Bloomerang webinars, and like I said, speaks a lot. Even spoke at BloomCon, which we were really thrilled to have her.

I have already taken away too much time from Claire. So, Claire, I am going to hand it over to you. Talk to us all about the fundraising field. So, take it away, my friend.

Claire: Thank you all for joining us. I am really excited to talk about this issue. So excited that I asked Steven if we could have 15 extra minutes. So, we’re going for 75 minutes. I just want you to know that.

I’m excited about this because I find that too often we do things because someone tells us to do them, or we’re copying what we did last year, or we’re copying what someone else did, but we don’t really know why we’re including or excluding particular contents in our messaging and in our calls to action.

So, we’re just being told, “Put this in. Take this out.” It seems right because we’ve seen it other places, but that’s called working blindly, and that can lead to unintended consequences: accidentally removing what would have been the most persuasive part of your appeal. So, it really helps to learn about what influences decision-making to give your fundraising offer a fighting chance.

Research reveals how much principles of psychology and neuroscience influence donor choices. So today, I’m going to share some of my favorite tricks to incline your donors to say yes, because they simply won’t want to refuse the offer that you’ve made to them. And these are not manipulations. These are just smart research-based tools that savvy fundraisers should be using to improve messaging and calls to action. And if you use them, you are going to be way ahead of the curve.

So, I was going to introduce myself, but Steven did a great job of that, so let’s get right to what I want to cover today. I’m going to share with you 10 of my favorite principles of influence and persuasion, and I could talk about this for a full day. I just don’t want to leave any of the good stuff out, so we’re going to go at a rapid clip trying to save some time for questions at the end.

I want you to think of these 10 things as buttons to push. We all know that pushing someone’s button is designed to get a strong, emotional reaction from them. And when you put these buttons into play in your appeal, they work as decision-making shortcuts for your prospective donor, and they incline them to want to accept your offer and say yes.

So I want to look at them one at a time. I’m going to explain the strategy. Then I’m going to give you a few tips for how to apply that strategy in both your online and your offline fundraising and marketing, and then you can go back to your office and riff on these ideas to come up with your own ideas.

So the first principle is reciprocity, which is you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. People are wired this way. If you do someone a favor, they tend to feel indebted to you. They want to pay you back somehow. And this is the ultimate reason that great customer service and great donor service has such a fantastic return on investment. It’s the top reason that customers become repeat customers and donors become repeat donors.

And there was a 1987 study done by a psychologist named Norbert Schwartz, who found that it does not take much to start the process of reciprocity. Even the smallest of favors allows you to buy goodwill and increase loyalty and increase retention and increase the likelihood someone will say yes.

So let’s start with some of the research. In this one, Norbert Schwartz put a dime randomly on a copy machine during the course of the day, and the next user would find a dime or they wouldn’t find a dime. And then later, everyone who used that machine was interviewed about their lives. They found that those who had found the dime were happier and more satisfied and wanted to change their lives less than those who didn’t find a dime.

So, it’s not the value of the favor. It’s that something positive happened to you, surprised you, and made you grateful. So, very minimal things can temporarily put you in a good mood and brighten everything else.

There was another study where people were leaving a grocery store and asked to evaluate their satisfaction with their TV back at home. And when they had been in the store, just minutes earlier, some of them got a free sample of lemon pound cake and some of them didn’t. Those who got the free sample liked their TVs back at home more than those who didn’t get the samples. And that’s because when they got the lemon pound cake, they got a shot of dopamine that went right to their brain’s pleasure centers and just made them happier and more receptive.

This works only when the person is not aware that they’re happy because they found a dime or they got the cake. If you sit and think hard about it, you realize it’s a really silly reason to feel good.

So if you go back to your office and you start to share this research with your powers that be, they’re going to try to talk you out of any strategies that work for this reason because it sounds ridiculous, but don’t let them. Donors are not going to stop and analyze these things. They’re simply going to feel good because you did something nice for them, and that inclines them to want to do something nice for you.

So, I would recommend to you this book by Jay Baer called “Youtility.” It’s all about helping not selling, offering people something that’s useful to them. And I talk about this all the time. You really want to make somebody on your staff responsible for donor service. You really want to create a seamless customer experience.

And this goes to what you, I’m sure, have been hearing a lot about, creating an organization-wide culture of philanthropy. All of this is important. There are many things that are important to your fundraising appeal’s success than just writing the perfect prose. If the receptionist is nice to your donor, they’re going to already be inclined to want to return that favor. And if the receptionist is rude, your appeal might fall on deaf ears. So think about content that you can give to people that’s so useful to them, people might even pay for it.

Here are some examples. Offline, if you’ve ever wondered why direct mailers send free address labels or free calendars or free note cards, it’s because it works. And it doesn’t work for everyone, but it does work for plenty of people. I’m not suggesting that you do it. I’m just explaining to you why this works.

Even if you don’t do large-scale direct mailings, you can apply this principle. You can include [emailed 00:12:11] newsletters or send via email things like how-to information, things that you have hanging around your office anyway. “Ten Ways to Keep Seniors Safe,” Tips for Taking Toddlers to the Zoo,” “7 Tips for Planning the Perfect Museum Date,” “22 Ways to Save Your Planet,” whatever makes sense based on what your mission is.

You can also send folks little token gifts that cost you, basically, nothing, like a coupon for coffee from one of your supporters or even a stick of gum that says, “Thanks for sticking with us.”

Online, little favors includes things like links to how-to videos or recommended reading lists, or whitepapers that you have that have groundbreaking research that people might be interested in, the names and contact information of people they can reach if they need information on particular areas like how to volunteer or whatever, even things like jokes and inspiring quotes and recipes maybe from someone on your staff or somebody who you’ve helped. All of these things are little gifts.

And even stories sprinkled throughout, stories on your website, those are a gift too, especially stories that people can enter into, mystery stories that people can help to solve, because it feels so satisfying to be the hero that gives the story a happy ending. So that’s reciprocity.

The next persuasion principle is commitment. And this principle is that people tend to commit when they are presented with some kind of an idea, some kind of an appeal that fits their self-image. And this is also called “foot in the door,” because people who make commitments tend to follow through, they tend to enter in further, and they tend to repeat their past behaviors because we human beings have this deep need to be perceived as consistent.

So this, again, acts as a decision-making shortcut. When we make a decision, we like to feel like we made the right one, so we double down on it. If you remind me that I made a decision to give to you previously and thank me for making such a good decision and hopefully demonstrate the positive outcome that resulted, I’m going to want to be consistent with myself. I won’t have to do the hard work to determine whether I should or shouldn’t participate because I already have a foot in the door. And now the question is just, “How much should I get?”

You can also, with prospective donors, thank them in advance, flatter them for being caring and generous human beings, which gives them a foot in the door and a kind of commitment even though it’s not as strong as a commitment. Once folks have committed to you in any way, they’re more likely to continue.

So, here are some types of commitments you can secure. If you get them committed online at an entry level, you’re more likely to get them to recommit at higher levels. So you can begin by doing all of these things that are on the screen, which I’m not going to read for you, but you’re after a type of engagement that’s ultimately going to convert folks to the actions you desire them to take. And once they say yes, then you can ask them if they would retweet or if they would share the video you sent them or if they would do something else, make a pledge to contact their congressperson, and so on.

And then offline, again, the simplest thing you can do is remind people that they have had some kind of engagement with you in the past. If it’s not as a donor, maybe it’s that they attended your event or they volunteered or they signed your petition.

Once you’ve got this baseline connection to people, you can then guide them through a series of moves or touches. I call this “a donor love and loyalty plan,” which I wrote something for that is on Bloomerang’s website, which you can download for a whole plan on how to do that.

Let’s look at one online example that I found of how to do this, which I really like. It’s from the San Francisco Marin Food Bank, where, full disclosure, I used to work as the director of development and marketing, but I didn’t write this one.

And they asked people to take the “food for all” pledge by simply clicking a button and adding their name. And then the next step they asked people to do, they said, “Raise your hand, say, ‘Enough is enough,’ now sign our pledge, and then share it. Take that one step further and urge your friends to take the pledge.”

So it’s really, again, just a great example of the “foot in the door” strategy that makes folks begin to feel committed, to feel like, “I’m a food bank supporter.” So that’s reciprocity. That’s commitment. The next persuasion button you can push is called social proof.

This is a big one. People do what they observe others doing. And it’s why using testimonials on your website and in your fundraising appeals can be powerfully persuasive. Frankly, it’s why people buy Twitter followers, which I’m not suggesting that you do, but it does work. I don’t do it, but when people believe that there are all these people that approve of you, they’re more likely to approve of you as well. And this is the power of Yelp. People look to the wisdom of the crowd for help making up their own mind. It mitigates risk and it acts as a decision-making shortcut.

So, whether online or offline, we really do use social proof every day to make low-risk decisions when we don’t have the whole story. So, what you can do is showcase what the in-crowd is doing. Show people that they’ll keep up with the Joneses if they support you. And offline, you can simply invite prospects to events where they can rub shoulders with their peers. You can ask your board and your committee leaders and your donors to invite friends to attend events with them, because people will more likely say yes to people that they know and they like.

At the event, have your current supporters give testimonials, stand up and say how they first got involved with you, why they continue to support you. In other words, they’re standing up and showing your new guests how they are very much like them. Monkey see, monkey do.

You also can let donors know what similar donors are giving. Last time I pledged at my public television station, they said, “Today, people have been giving average gifts ranging from $150 to $250.” So, it just gives you an idea of what the rest of the crowd is doing. You can let your board members know what other board members are giving. You can tell banks what level other banks are sponsoring you at, and so on.

Online, of course, you can do the same thing. You can invite testimonials from people and then use them. Ask for feedback on your newsletter articles. Ask current supporters to talk about you in their personal social media channels. Ask people to share your e-newsletters or your blog with their friends via email. Ask your volunteers to review their volunteer experience on Yelp. And then sprinkle these supporter testimonials throughout your website.

“This is the greatest investment I ever made.” “The staff here really knows what they’re doing.” “They use my money wisely.” “I know my gift goes directly to help people.” “I always receive reports demonstrating the impact of my giving.” So that’s an idea of how to use social proof.

The next button to push is called authority. Folks inherently trust and follow authority figures. And these may be people that are perceived as experts on the subject or they may be perceived as having some kind of social status.

I recently watched a video of a well-dressed man in a suit jaywalking across the street. Everyone on the street corner followed. Then the same man wore sweatshirt and did the same thing, and no one followed. That is the principle of authority at work, and it’s why celebrity and expert endorsements are used to promote products. I don’t know if some of you may use celebrity endorsements, certainly you probably see a lot of the larger charities doing that, and that’s why they do it.

You can also work, however, without a celebrity to establish yourself as a thought leader, as an authority in your field. So let’s look at some ways to do that.

So, online, you can initiate discussions on platforms like LinkedIn. You can list your staff’s credentials on your website. Maybe include a short bio of each of your senior staff. You can link to published articles, research papers that were written by your staff. You can seek out influencers in your community or in your area of work and ask them to promote your content.

So you want to think about, “Who could provide the “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval for us?” because you really want to make your online presence your prospects’ most reassuring friends.

So when I was at the food bank, for example, we found that mommy bloggers and food bloggers worked really well for us. People trusted the mommy bloggers. They knew that they cared about nutrition for kids. And the food bloggers shared us because they cared about everything food and they were kind of sexy, and so people followed them a lot.

Offline, you can invite respected authorities to attend your events to address the crowd. One caveat here is that they really should be folks who are truly admired, not just any politico who will attend any and every event at the drop of a rubber chicken thigh. But if you have a celebrity or an expert . . . some type of perceived authority endorsed you or signed your fundraising letter, it will often lift response.

The next persuasion principle is liking. And this is one of Robert Cialdini who wrote “Influence” . . . it’s one of his six principles. And in his book, he lists five factors that power the principle of liking.

Physical attractiveness and good looks apparently suggest to us other favorable traits, like honesty and trustworthiness. Similarity, people like us, that’s kind of related to the monkey see, monkey do, but it’s a little deeper. You really want to show people that the values that you enact are similar to the values that they share. Compliments, we love praise. We tend to like people who give it to us. Contact and cooperation. We want to be part of a community. We feel a sense of commonality, working with others to fulfill a common goal. And conditioning and association. We like looking at models. We become more favorable then to the cars and the clothes, etc., behind them.

So generally, the principle of liking says, “Be genuine and human on your website, in your appeals.” It enables people to connect with you and see that you’re similar to them. That’s why when I give webinars about writing a fundraising appeal, I talk about making it very friendly and personal and not above a sixth grade level, so that people feel, “They’re like me. They’re not talking down to me, or anything like that.”

And get to know your supporters better, whatever you can do, because familiarity fosters likability. So, in-person visits, phone calls, surveys, dialogues on social networks, you really need to listen to people and be responsive to them.

Let’s look at some more specific tips. The likability is really being donor centered in everything that you do, getting inside your donors’ heads and thinking about what they would like. And in terms of looking good, I think about that in terms of having really nice print materials. A nice reception area in the office, just things like that that make you look, “They seem good. They seem honest. They seem trustworthy.”

Developing an organization-wide customer service culture, which we talked about earlier. Every interaction a donor has with you has significance. They really don’t distinguish between the receptionist and the director of development. If anyone is rude to them, they’re going to take that with them and they’re going to remember that.

Flatter people. Say nice things to your supporters in appeals and thank-you letters. Repeat that gratitude whenever you can. Tell donors that they are your heroes. Again, no jargon, no formal speech, warm conversational tone. Don’t make it all about you. Nobody likes somebody who’s just talking all about themselves.

And online, you want to have a positive, active social presence, because folks interact online. It’s kind of become the virtual water cooler today, so you want to be fun to hang out with there. You want to have a friendly human voice there. You want to be, again, offering little gifts, gifts of content, little favors.

People like to see other people, so pictures with people, especially faces, make you likeable. And studies show that the highest converting images are faces.

And then just make people smile. Keep delighting them with these little bits of content and make it easy for them to interact with you. If they have to click four times to get to where they want to on your website, they don’t like you. If they have to scroll through multiple screens to fill out a form to make a donation, they don’t like that. You’re going to lose them along the way.

Let’s go on to the next principle, which is called scarcity. Robert Cialdini found that when folks believe they’re going to miss out on something, they are wired to do anything they can to avoid this loss. And this perceived scarcity fuels demand. It’s also called FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. People will stand in line to buy Apple phones, to buy Nike sneakers, to buy Harry Potter books, because they might run out. We just want more of what there’s less of. So, it’s important for your nonprofit to be perceived as precious and sought-after. And there’s a number of ways to do this.

Here are some offline tips, like sending an event invitation that offers an intimate, exclusive meeting with somebody desirable. Letting people know that space is extremely limited, that you can come first come, first serve. Perhaps mention that previous events filled up fast. “Only four seats left.” “First 100 donors are going to get plaques with their names on the theater’s chair. You’re not going to want to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to receive permanent recognition.”

And of course, you can do the same thing online. You’re just letting folks know time is running out. The event is almost sold out. The year-end deadline to get a tax deduction is fast approaching. It’s time to leverage the challenge grant, which is disappearing December 31. Or “The first 25 of you who retweet this advocacy alert are going to be entered in a raffle to win a prize from your sponsor.”

Another thing I’ve seen done with Pinterest is “everybody who pins a photo of themselves wearing or displaying anything with our name on it will be eligible for a raffle prize.”

So you’re really trying to use scarcity to not let people put down your appeal without responding right away. You worked really hard to trigger their emotions, and you want to strike before their ardor cools off.

And there’s another related influence and decision-making trigger that I want to look at next that’s called loss aversion. And this is something that two Israeli psychologists, which you may have heard of, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, they demonstrated how much people’s economic behavior, and that includes philanthropy, is guided by a change of reference point. We would rather choose not to lose over gaining the same thing.

So, I’m going to go over this carefully because this is really a powerful one and it’s a little counterintuitive. But in other words, the negative feelings that come from loss are much stronger than the positive ones coming from gain.

So, they did one experiment where they gave people a free cup with a logo on it, and then they asked people, “How much would you sell this back to us for?” Other people, they had a cup and said, “How much would you pay for it?” And the people who had been given the cup and already had it charged a lot more than the people who said, “We don’t have a cup yet. We’ll pay like $3 for that cup.” And the other people are like, “You have to pay me $7 to get this cup back from me.” Fear of loss weighs heavier than hope of gain.

And when you suggest to people that they give something up in order to do good, they have a lot of difficulty doing that. So I want you to retire this concept of telling people to give until it hurts, or even . . . I see this a lot and I used to do it, and now I know not to do it . . . saying, “Give up your latte for a week. That’s all it’ll cost.” People don’t want to give up their latte. We know that donors give because they want to make a positive impact, so you want it to be more like, “Give until it feels good.”

And it can really help to frame the fundraising offer within the context of pain versus gain, because human beings are just wired to make this loss versus gain calculation. So you want to begin by showing people what they have to lose by not giving. You are trying to help people avoid the pain.

It’s another way that fear of missing out plays out. We’re so wired to avoid losses, bad things happening, that the pain from the loss exceeds the pleasure from the gain. So, if you say, “Look, you need to respond now. There’s a crisis. People are suffering. We don’t want to have people suffer. Our doors are going to have to close next month. We don’t want that to happen. Emergency response is needed right away, or else. The bad, punishing winter weather is approaching. We don’t want to have to kick this person out on the street.”

So I want to look at . . . I think my slides got out of order here, but there’s an idea here that a pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure. The prevention part, the bad stuff, the stuff that we’re preventing weighs just much heavier on our mind. And what generally people stand to lose is the hope that their gift will make a meaningful impact.

Now, hope is a really powerful emotion, and in its absence, it’s really hard for people to feel good. People don’t want to lose hope. A litany of benefits is just not going to prompt action as strongly as demonstrating the hopelessness and the enormous pain that can be avoided if the donor gives.

So I want to ask you the same question that the researchers asked other people. They told them that a disease outbreak is expected to kill 600 people. These are our options to potentially minimize the death. And these are the choices. They could adopt Program A to save 200 people, or they could adopt Program B where there was a one-third probability 600 would be saved, a two-third probability no one would be saved. And we’ve got a poll here, which I would like you to choose your options to minimize the death. So, can everybody see that poll?

Steven: I think so. The answers are coming in pretty fast now, Claire.

Claire: Good.

Steven: It looks like most people are voting to save the 200. That is the overwhelming favorite.

Claire: Okay.

Steven: About 75% of the attendees want to save the few and not take the chance, it looks like.

Claire: Okay. So, this is . . . I see. Wow. So that’s super interesting because that’s exactly what the research shows. Seventy-two percent chose A, save the 200, avoid the risk of losing everyone, even though there’s a third of a chance of saving all 600. So, the pleasure from the potential greater gain is dwarfed by the pain of the certain loss.

Now I’m going to ask you another question. Here, a disease outbreak is expected to kill 600 people. These are your options to potentially minimize the death. Adopt Program C, 400 people will die. Adopt Program D, a one-third probability nobody dies, a two-third probability 600 will die. So here is your survey. And if you could answer, that would be great. Are the answers coming in?

Steven: Yeah. It looks like most people are saying to take the chance on the one-third and the two-third, so it kind went the other way on this one. Interesting.

Claire: It’s fascinating to me, because that is exactly what the research showed.

Steven: Wow.

Claire: More people would take the third chance of nobody dying rather than the certain pain that 400 would die. Even though there’s a two-third chance that pain will be greater this way, 600 will die. Again, the pain of that certain loss dwarfs the pleasure from the potential gain of saving even greater numbers.

So now let’s look at this more closely so you can understand how framing has a huge impact. A and D are actually the same. Some of you may have noticed that. And B and D are the same. The only thing that changed was the framing device. People hate the option of Program C because there’s a certainty that 400 people will die, and they hate the option of Program B because they can’t securely lock in their gain. So, maybe they’ll get to save more people, but maybe not.

So the big takeaway, again, is that when people are faced with choices that are involving gain, they’re often risk-averse. We’ll lock in sure wins, but we’ll take risks, in other words donate more money, to avoid sure losses. So you want to consider using this loss frame when you’re expressing the outcome of not donating to your cause rather than what both will gain by donating. It’s a subtle thing, but it has a powerful impact. And certainty of the loss is key here.

I also want to say that pain doesn’t have to mean large numbers. In fact, showing one certain loss is better than a multitude. So, “Abidemi is starving to death. Don’t let Abidemi die. Donate $50.” And you say this instead of, “Donate $50 to save Abidemi.” It’s very subtle, but in the first iteration it’s clear that Abidemi is going to die otherwise, so the loss frame is quite clear and it’s harder to say no to.

Again, this important nuance of telling one story of certain loss being better than overwhelming numbers. And at play here is something that is called the identifiable victim effect, which comes from research by Paul Slovic, which I’m going to get to in a minute. But the key here is what I alluded to earlier. You want to avoid triggering feelings of hopelessness.

If I see 24,000 children die from hunger daily, that’s just too much. I’ll give generously to avoid loss when I think it’s something that I can realistically help with, but if you trigger my feelings of hopelessness by depicting loss on immense scale, then I begin to feel like, “Well, the pain is unavoidable.” And you don’t want the donor to feel that, even if they give, there’s still going to be great pain.

That kind of a fundraising offer is perceived as a drop in the bucket. The donor feels it that the gift they’ve been asked for is going to be a small, meaningless token, so what’s the point? It’s not a satisfying feeling to give $10 to help 24,000 starving children. It’s much more satisfying to give $10 to help one malnourished child avoid the pain of starvation.

So let me tell you more about this Paul Slovic experiment. This was done in 2007 with Save the Children. They mailed a story about an individual child in need, and people donated $2.38, which was more than twice as much as any of the other options that they mailed. And they called this the identifiable victim effect. They then mailed a fact-based appeal about the numbers of children in need, and people gave $1.14.

So, the data is hard for people to grasp. It’s boring. The average people don’t care, let’s say, about the concentration of E. coli in the aquifer. They do care and will do everything in their power to keep poop out of their tap water.

So then the researchers thought, “Well, hey, why don’t we combine data in the story? That will probably be the best.” It wasn’t because, again, people were moved by the individual child’s story, but when they read the numbers, they felt overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, so they gave less. That’s the drop in the bucket.

People respond to numbers they can grasp, not huge numbers. And that leads to a principle called scope insensitivity. I don’t know, are the slides moving for you guys? I hope so.

Steven: Yep.

Claire: So, we want to factor in that if only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics. Or as Mother Teresa said, “If I look at the math, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” So you want to factor this into your appeals very thoughtfully.

And I want to look at another experiment here on scope insensitivity, where they asked people to give, respectively, money to save 2,000 birds and 20,000 birds. And these birds were drenched in oil, drowning. And people respectively answered $80 and $78. The number of birds saved had very little effect on their willingness to pay.

Seth Godin says that “we just don’t prioritize our interest or our urgency based on scale. We do it based on noise.” The compelling story. And he also went on to say, “If you present your donor with an offer that involves making a decision of scale, any number over 10 that you use, the scope of the problem is going to be underestimated.”

People can visualize one bird or maybe even up to 10. This exhausted, feather-soaked in black oil, unable to escape, that’s a prototype that they can envision that calls for the level of emotional arousal that is primarily responsible for willingness to pay. Scope just gets tossed out the window because no human being can visualize 2,000 birds at once, let alone 20,000. So data only reinforces emotional decisions that have already been made.

Next principle is called anchoring, and this, again, was discovered by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The human brain compares subsequent options with the one that came first, and they use that as a means to make judgments and get the best deal.

The first piece of information is the anchor. That sets the tone for everything else. And they found in this paper, “Judgment Under Uncertainty,” that anchoring works best when people lack solid evidence or knowledge. So, this comes into play in fundraising when people don’t know how much money they should give. They don’t know what you expect from them. They don’t know what others are giving. They just don’t know what’s appropriate. So it’s really important that you give them a clue, and there’s a lot of different ways to do this.

I want to show you another famous experiment on anchoring that was done by some psychologists who tested this at a bar. And they presented a beer menu to customers in two different ways with the prices from low to high and from high to low. And you can see that, thanks to doing nothing more than presenting the choices in a certain order, the bar made an average of 24 cents more per beer.

It was because people read from top to bottom. In the high to low list, they see the higher priced beers first, and the initial price serves as an anchor that influences their eventual choice. So their eventual choice seems less to them in their mind.

In horizontal lists, people read the way they read books. So, in the United States, we will read from left to right. In Israel, it would read from right to left. Changing the order on this beer menu resulted in an additional 4% in revenue. If your website pulls in, let’s say, $500,000 a year online, 4% is $20,000. So, would changing the order of suggested donation amounts get you that much additional? You won’t really know until you test it for yourself.

And I do want to show you something that . . . I’m not saying that you should always do it this way. I’m saying you should test. The folks that NextAfter did a recent study, and it really surprised me, because they did a low-to-high arrangement, and they did a high-to-low. And as you can see, arranging the options from high to low yielded a significant decrease both in numbers of donation and sizes of gifts.

I found this really surprising. Their takeaway was that the high-to-low arrangement subtly communicated that smaller gifts were not welcomed. And people interpret the first option as what is desirable and acceptable, and so they were thinking, “Well, if a donor wanted to give $50 and sees you appreciate $50 gifts as well as other gifts, then they might even decide to upgrade and send you $75. But if they see that anything under $50 is just chopped liver to you, they might think, ‘Well, adding an increment of $25 is not going to much matter, because all you really notice is the big gifts.'”

This was just one test, and I have been starting to see more and more charities using descending order. And here I’ve got two examples up on the screen. Now, I confess I don’t know if they’re doing it because it works, or because they’ve read research on framing, or they’ve seen other people do it, but I would definitely suggest you test it out.

Another way to use framing, which you’ve also seen, is to pre-select amounts. Numbers can act like psychological magnets or frames in other contexts as well. So you can circle one mid-range option on your remit piece to use as an anchor that will cause people to consider this as a baseline, or you can pre-select an amount by filling in an amount, highlighting an amount, pre-filling a radio button, etc. I kind of guessed that the anchors within reason will tend to lead toward higher gifts, but you’ve got to experiment. You’ve got to experiment with different anchors.

I want to go on to the next one, which is priming. And this is an implicit memory effect in which exposure to a stimulus influences a response to a later stimulus. So in this experiment, in a wine store, when they played French music, they sold more French wine. When they played German music, they sold more German wine.

So, I want to remind you that a stimulus can be like a favor too, like what Cialdini called reciprocity, but priming is generally more sense-based. And in recognition of this, Cialdini recently expanded on his six principles of persuasion to adding a new one, which he calls Pre-Suasion. It’s somewhat a melding of priming and reciprocity.

So let’s take a look at Pre-Suasion. Again, the reciprocity research centers on leading with a gift or a favor that might incline a donor favorably in your direction. What his new book does is add a critical element to the timing of performing that favor. It’s kind of the principle of “What have you done for me lately?” in action.

And it turns out that recency is key, that time comes down to the moment before we deliver our message, what he calls privileged moment. And if you know what to put in that privileged moment before you deliver the message, you’re going to make that person more receptive to what you’re about to say.

You can either do or you can show. And what you do is kind of the favor. What you show is something in your donor’s viewing space, like music playing in the background or something up on your website in this privileged moment.

We’re going to get to the showing in a moment. First, I want to get the doing. What can you do immediately before asking someone for a gift to predispose them to be receptive?

So, according to Cialdini’s research, the favor you give must be unexpected, not part of what’s usually done in exchanges between people, and customized or personalized to that individual’s needs and challenges. So here, I’m thinking I need to ask for a gift tomorrow. Today, I’m going to email them a link to this article that I saw that I know they’re interested in about dolphins. And then the donor is sitting there thinking, “Oh, gosh, that was so nice of you to remember that I like dolphins. I should really give to that program again the next time they ask,” and they’re really prepped.

And there were some experiments that put this pre-suasion principle into action that I just want to share because they’re so cool. So, this was in a restaurant, a fast-food restaurant. As people came in, the manager greeted each one-third of people differently.

The first third were warmly greeted, and then ushered over to the counter to order food. The second third were given a small gift, which was a nice key ring, and then they were ushered to the counter. And they ordered 12% more food because they were given something. They wanted to give back. The third group was given a cup of yogurt. They were ushered over to the counter and they purchased 24% more because they were given the most meaningful favor for folks coming into a restaurant, free food. So they purchased double what those who were given the less meaningful gifts. So, you want to think about what could be meaningful to your donor.

Now I want to look at a showing experiment. This was a furniture website and Cialdini’s researchers arranged to send visitors to one of two landing pages with different backgrounds. One had wallpaper that pictured fluffy clouds, and the other had pictures of coins. And the cloud visitors ended up searching the website for the most comfy furniture. The coin visitors searched for the most inexpensive furniture.

And there was another experiment with website background design that a couple of other researchers, Mandel and Johnson, where they asked people to choose between two products in a similar category, a Toyota versus a Lexus. And they found that the visitors primed on the money website background with pennies on it looked at price information more than those who had been primed on safety or those who had been primed on comfort.

So what can your nonprofit do? This was an actual experiment done with a non-profit at a university where they assigned a group of students to call alumni donors. And the first group was given the talking points on the left. The second group was given the exact same talking points, but there was a picture at the top of a runner winning a race. And the caller’ who had the photo collected 60% higher donations.

The imagery that these callers saw pre-suaded them to make a more compelling pitch that would win the race. And once the callers were pumped up, then the donors could achieve a contact high.

So, here’s a tip. Paste a compelling image on the computer or next to your phone when you next make call and see what it inspires. Cialdini’s research showed that if you show people a picture of Rodin’s “The Thinker” statue, they become more thoughtful. So, you want to consider the mood you want to invoke and then use imagery to pre-suade yourself to do just that.

And here’s something you can do when you’re in person with a donor. They found that handing a person a warm beverage at the beginning of a meeting causes them to describe you as a warm person. They also found that if you sit to the left of a person or approach them from the left, that will allow you to have greater influence on their emotions. Something about left brain and right brain, I think.

The other thing that I’ve found is simply putting a smile on your face whenever you talk on the phone really works wonders. You sound happier, you sound more confident, and that can influence people to say yes.

And you can read about much of what I have covered thus far in any of these three books, which I highly recommend to you, “Pre-Suasion” by Cialdini, “The Psychology of Influence and Persuasion” by Cialdini, and “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.

And now I want to look at one final psychological neuroscience influencer as we delve a little bit into how the brain works, and this is emotional cues. So, you want to be generous with the things that we know trigger empathy in people, and that is emotional cues like story and visuals.

And if you remember the difference between irrational humans and logical Vulcans on “Star Trek,” you know that human behavior is ruled more by emotions than logic. So when we receive an appeal, we just don’t think long and hard about it, we decide quickly. This is one of the things that Daniel Kahneman covers in length in “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow.”

We decide quickly if we think it’s just to justify our decision that was made with emotion. So you don’t want to count on people reasoning things through. Reason can’t work absent emotion.

I could talk all day about storytelling, but you definitely want to tell a story. There’s another book by Lisa Kron called “Wired for Story,” and we are wired that way. When we see a story, we want to enter into it. And so, when I open an appeal letter that doesn’t begin with a story, my heart really sinks. I know it’s not going to do that well. Also, human brains retain images better than anything else. And when I see an appeal without a visual, it also makes me want to cry.

So I want to look really quickly at how seeing is believing. Here’s another experiment where they gave noted enologists, who are basically wine snobs, white wine with red food coloring. And the experts used all the words that one uses to describe red wine without ever noting that it was white wine.

So, if you need to persuade somebody in your office of the importance of using visuals, try this experiment. It is because the brain processes olfactory cues, taste and smell, approximately 10 times slower than sight. Sight is just really, really fast. So if you remember nothing else from today, put visuals everywhere, visuals that tell a story, of course, faces. Seeing is believing.

And I really want to look a little bit at how this translates to philanthropy based on how our brains are wired to receive emotional cues. So, you really want your donor to feel happy about giving, and there are three neurochemical drivers of happiness that are deep in our primitive brains. Our primitive brains are responsible for our gut decisions.

These have been called the happiness trifecta. Dopamine is connected to motivation and arousal. And you may have heard about the MRI studies that have been done where people just thinking, just contemplating, about making a gift get a dopamine rush. They get this warm glow. You want to trigger that dopamine rush.

Oxytocin is called the cuddle hormone. It’s what gets released when someone hugs you, but it’s also called the trust molecule, because when oxytocin begins to flow, bonding increases and trust and empathy are enhanced. So people feel, again, more inclined. And reading a story, watching a play, those things give us an empathy feeling boost of oxytocin, which is a really good thing if you’re asking a donor for help.

And then oxytocin releases serotonin, and that is connected to things that are good for our well being like sleep and digestion and memory and learning, and also appetite. Serotonin can make us more passionate and can free up our willingness to make passionate gifts.

I would love to talk about more of this if we had more time. I do want to talk a little more about oxytocin because that’s been called the moral molecule. And there’s another great book called “The Moral Molecule” by neuroscientist Paul Zak. It talks about how when we read a story and it elicits empathy and trust, it motivates us to show kindness to other people. And Zak actually discovered that higher levels of oxytocin in the bloodstream are associated with significantly higher desire to give to a charitable cause.

So, until I get to do another webinar on this topic, I would recommend you Zak’s book and remind you how very well established in neuroscience is the fact that people don’t process abstractions and generalities very well. And 85% of the fundraising appeal letters that I see are abstract. They just say, “Would you give donations for needy people?” You need a compelling story about a specific person with an emotional trigger that actually alters our brain chemistry to make us more empathic and open.

It’s difficult for most of us to donate to faceless entities, but we will open our wallets for people that we can see, and this is because of something called mirror neurons. If you’ve ever seen someone accidentally cut themselves and then hear yourself exclaiming, “Ouch!” it’s because that reaction is the mirror neurons in your brain. It makes you feel that you’re actually experiencing what you see. So you want to help people feel the experience. You want to trigger that phenomenon of “there but for the grace of, go I.” That places people’s empathy on a gut level and makes them want to act.

So you want to choose your photos very wisely. Faces, people in pain in your appeal, happy people in your thank-you letters so that people feel happy that they made a difference.

So I really encourage you to use some of these 10 useful shortcuts to get more people to respond to your calls to action, and understand that neuro-fundraising is really a process of using the studies and the research to understand how our brains work and how they react to improve your fundraising results.

So, if you think about these principles, you can use them. You don’t have to use all of them, but you use them to predispose people to do what they already want to do. Remember that most people want to make our world a better more caring place. So when you influence people to do something that they’re already predisposed to do, something that matches their values, something that makes them feel good, that is a fine thing.

And using the science of persuasion and the principles of influence intelligently is neither sleazy nor Machiavellian. Your ends are not evil. You’re just trying to make the best use of limited resources and cut through the clutter and help people who are super busy and super swamped with information. And if you can use shortcuts to grab their attention and persuade them to act, then your organization can benefit significantly, and your donors will feel really good too. I call that a win-win.

So, I would love to take some time for questions. And I’m going to hand it over to you for that, Steven.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Thanks, Claire. This is really cool. I love seeing all those experiments and case studies. This is a really fun one. Thanks for this. It’s awesome. I think everyone listening along enjoyed it as well.

We have a lot of questions. Some really good ones here. I think a good place to start would be Linda’s question. How do you get buy-in for all this, Claire? What if you’re ED is fearful to maybe make some of these changes? Any advice for getting buy-in for all this good advice?

Claire: Well, one of the places I would start is show them this webinar. You’re going to get this webinar. That’s how I used to persuade my bosses all the time. And this was even before the internet. I would just get other articles, I would highlight them, I would write notes in the margin, and then I would just send them to my boss and other people on my staff, and sometimes board presidents, even, and say, “Hey, look at this interesting research. What do you think? Do you think there’s a way we could apply it here?” It’s not coming from me. It’s coming from somebody else.

Steven: Right. That makes a lot of sense.

It’s probably better than maybe just doing it yourself and asking [forgiveness 01:07:39], right?

Claire: Yes.

Steven: Here’s one from Rosie. In the context of grant writing, how would you apply some of this info? She asked specifically about telling the stories versus specifics. Is there room for both stories and stats in maybe a grant application, or should you keep it kind of . . . I think the mentality is hard facts and figures, but I can be wrong about that, obviously. Is it okay to weave in some of those more personal things?

Claire: Well, I would say both/and to this. Grant writing is different from an appeal writing for sure. And generally, when you write a grant, they’ve got all sorts of requirements. They’re asking you for all these data, so you can’t leave it out.

But you also want to remember that the people who are reading the grant proposal are people, so all of this stuff holds for them too. They are influenced psychologically by all of these things, so I do actually encourage including stories in grant proposals. It’s not all that you have, but you have a story.

And I’m thinking about . . . one of the very first grant proposals I ever wrote, I didn’t even know what I was doing, but I just kind of did this intuitively. I was working at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. We needed a new boiler because the heat wasn’t going on. And I found out that the violinist, before they would play the violin, even in practice, let alone performance, they would always go into the bathroom and run their hands under the hot water to heat up their hands so that they were nimble enough to play the violin, and they couldn’t do this.

So I actually told that story in the grant proposal. And I don’t know if it helped, but we got $100,000 grant and that was back in 1982. It was the biggest grant they had ever received. And of course, it made them feel like I was the greatest thing and so I thought, “Well, now I’ve got my career. Now I know what I’m doing for the rest of my life.”

Steven: Good job.

Claire: So, anyway, I do think that they work.

Steven: I love it. Here’s one from Tina. My buddy, Tina. Hey, Tina. I think this question came up earlier in the session. Multiple call to action in an appeal, is it okay to provide the how-to tips and ask them to complete a survey? She’s saying that she’s seen some things where you don’t want to distract too much from the appeal with multiple calls to action. How would you kind of recommend . . .

Claire: Right, and that’s absolutely true. I’m not suggesting that you throw all of this stuff into one appeal letter. More, this is, again, this idea that you are priming people, you are pre-suading them, that this is something . . . That’s why I talked about donor love and loyalty plan. All throughout the course of the year, you want to be throwing all of this stuff at people to put them in a warm and fuzzy frame of mine as opposed to we send the appeal, then we send a thank-you letter, and then they don’t hear from us again until we send the next appeal.

So, no, you don’t want to put multiple calls to action in an appeal letter. You really only want one call to action because the more that you distract people, the more likely they are to put it aside.

One of the things that we know is that anything extra, data, a brochure stuck into the appeal, etc., stops people dead in their tracks. They’re kind of reading through the appeal, they’re ready to respond, and they go, “Oh, wait, what have we here? I better look at this brochure,” or, “Wait, they want me to respond to a survey or they want me to also go on and call my congressman. I’ll do that first, and then I’ll come back and think about this.” No. Just one thing in the letter. I’m sorry if I was confusing about that.

Steven: I love it. That’s great advice. Well, we said we’d go to 2:15. I want to be respectful of everyone’s time. So I’ve probably got room for one more question, but, Claire, are you willing to take questions maybe by email or Twitter? Is it okay?

Claire: Sure. Yeah, I’ll try.

Steven: Cool. I think you have some experience in this matter, Claire. You’ve already touched on it, but Sarah’s wondering what advice you have for arts and cultural organizations that may not have as concrete of maybe output or KPIs or goals as say someone that’s trying to save people and maybe eradicate a disease, those more sort of abstract causes. How can they kind of do the things you recommended here in terms of storytelling? I think you gave a good example with the violin player, but any other advice?

Claire: Well, it’s interesting because arts organizations are right there in empathy world. As I was saying, when people watch a play, it triggers that feeling of empathy. And I work with one arts organization now that actually on their website talks about their theater company and talks about how they consider themselves an empathy gym. And when you come in to watch the play, you’re in a safe space and you’re watching and, for a moment, you are transported. That’s all you’re thinking about. And you think about things that you wouldn’t otherwise think about, which translate to your daily life.

This theater company happens to have a program where they bring in inner-city kids to get to see the play. A lot of arts organizations do things like that. So you talk about the things where you think people will feel like, “I don’t want this child to live their whole life without this opportunity.” But also, it can be just an appreciation of how much the arts means to them.

When I worked at the Conservatory of Music, we always had a quote that we used, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” You can show a movie that has a score underneath playing and then show the movie with no musical score underneath and see how flat, and talk about how flat the world would be without the arts.

So there’s a lot of ways that you try to get inside people’s heads. What’s in this for them? What might this mean for them? And show them what would happen if it wasn’t there.

Steven: Yeah, I like it. Wow, this was a fun one, Claire. Thanks so much for spending so much time with us. I know you’re super busy sharing all your knowledge for free. Wow, we can’t thank you enough. So, thanks for being here.

Claire: Well, thank you so much for having me. I really want to just thank everybody else and I want to share with you one of my favorite quotes from one of my mentors, Hank Rosso, who founded The Fundraising School. He says, “Philanthropy is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”

And I really think that part of that gentle art is that, if you want gifts, you have to give them to people. Sometimes they’re overt. Sometimes they’re subtle. But they all move your donor to the same place, to this joyful, liberated place that really gives their life greater meaning. So never, ever feel like you have to apologize for sharing the joy of giving with other people, however you do it.

Steven: I love it. Great way to almost end the week. This was great. I would encourage all of you to stay connected with Claire. Check out her website. She’s got a lot of free resources on there. There’s a great newsletter you can sign up for, which I would definitely recommend. And she’s got a really great program called The Clairification School that will give you access to even more advanced content, like templates and guides.

Claire also was kind enough to publish a template, actually the checklist for your annual appeal, on the Bloomerang blog today. So, I’m going to fire off a link to that. That’s a free download. Check that out.

Follow her on Twitter, if you do nothing else, if you’re a Twitter person. Obviously, she’s very knowledgeable.

So we’ll call it a day there. We’ve got a great webinar coming up one week from today. We’re going to talk all about bequests. If you’re not doing bequest marketing or planned giving, check out this session. This is from Tom Ahern. I’ve seen this session. He gave it live at BloomCon earlier in the year and I said, “Tom, we’ve got to have everyone hear this,” because bequests are awesome and you can make a lot of money, and they’re pretty easy to do too.

So if you want to learn about that, join us one week from today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, same time, same place, totally free. It’s going to be a good one. So hopefully, we’ll see you there.

If not, we’ve got some other webinars that you can check out all through the rest of the year, even into next year already. We’d love to see you again on one of those sessions.

So, we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the recording, the slides, and hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. So, have a good Thursday. Have a safe weekend, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

annual fundraising appeal

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.