- Fri, June 10 2011
- Filed under: Fundraising essentials
As you know by now, one of my mantras is, lead with emotion, follow with facts. Facts always should come second if you want to engage someone.
The Freakonomics team recently put this concept to the test in fundraising. They did what they said was an emotion vs. fact appeal to donors to Freedom from Hunger. Small prior donors reduced giving when presented with scientific evidence by 0.9 percentage points (statistically significant at 90%). Interesting, large prior donors increased giving when presented with scientific evidence by 3.54 percentage points (significant at 99%). So the results were mixed, and the team noted there are some biases. For example, the charity in question, Freedom from Hunger, is known for being focused on evidence and research.
I’d add that both appeals actually had emotion AND fact elements, and since Freedom from Hunger donors are emotional about results, I’m not sure it’s clear what any of this means. Most studies show statistics lower giving, and when I worked at CARE years ago, we did a similar test and the emotional appeal beat the pants off the facts appeal.
So what do we conclude from Freakonomics? Or do we conclude anything at all?
I decided to call someone smarter than me with that question. Mark Rovner of Sea Change Strategies is a buddy and also a certified trainer in the principles of Switch, one of my favorite books on motivation and decision making. Even though he was on a diving trip in the Caymans, he agreed to dive into this issue.
So what’s your conclusion, Mark?
Mark: The introduction of “scientific evidence” into the test appeals basically underscores the fundamentally emotional basis for giving. That’s not a bad thing: by emotion, we refer to the part of our minds that houses intuition, moral values, empathy, compassion, and the motivation to help.
So we shouldn’t think that large donors want a bunch of stats?
Mark: There’s a myth, at best partially right, that higher dollar donors are more rational and analytical in their thinking. For the most part there is scant evidence to support that. The relatively trivial positive swing in giving by the $100+ group in the Freakonomics is not much to write home about. What can be said about higher dollar donors in general is that (a) they have more money to begin with and (b) they may have a higher level of affinity toward the cause.
Really good point on the affinity. The big donors may have given more to ANY appeal, because they are biggest, most committed supporters of the organization. So at the end of the day, where do you come down on the role of emotion and facts?
Mark: There is a tendency in our culture to be ashamed of decisions made by our intuitive/emotional minds. To compensate, and often without much conscious thought, we therefore create rationalizations to clothe emotional choices in the garb of logic. We see that in our conversations with donors every day.
Amen to that. Enjoy your dive.