Over the past four decades, I have watched the interplay between fundraising communications based on facts and information, versus messaging that uses human and emotional terms. It has been a fascinating journey. One where all my early certainty about what is needed was constantly challenged.
In my past work as the co-founder of a large direct-response agency, we created thousands of appeals in all types of media and for all types of clients. With every appeal, we tested all types of messaging that we thought would garner the greatest response. The tests measured the fact-driven, informational approach against the human, emotional approach. And the results always came back in favor of the human and emotional messaging.
Sometimes I would fight those results. How could it be, I would ask, that a rational, intelligent human being would allow their emotions to guide their decision making? And I would doubt the results. Something’s gotta be wrong, I thought. People just do not make decisions about giving this way.
I kept trying to pick one or the other – either/or.
Then I realized this. Both approaches are needed in all fundraising communications. You can’t just do the logical facts thing, absent the human and emotional element. And you can’t just do the human and emotional approach, absent any facts and solid information.
That was my first learning.
The second one was this. That bundle of facts and information that you want to convey – that pack of info – it needs to be wrapped in human and emotional language. Not the other way around! No. The human and emotional content leads. It wraps itself around the facts and information and breathes life into it.
So, you start your communication with emotional and human content. “I have to tell you about Ann, a woman who’s been abused by her husband, has had her children taken away, and is struggling in an unjust system that has stripped away all her money. Here’s her story….”.
Then you tell the story, in an honoring way to the person whose story you’re telling…
…and then you give the facts: “36% of abused women in the United States are afraid to talk about their abuse for fear of reprisals. Here is how we break through that barrier to help….” Then you share the facts about the problem, the solution, and a brief look at the process.
You never start with those facts. You start with the human impact of the problem – the gripping reality that affects the person, or the forest, or the animal you love. And you tell that story in human and emotional terms – then insert the facts and information.
Your donors don’t care about all your facts and your data until they first connect emotionally with the problem they wish to solve.
And connecting with the problem is about humanizing your messaging – telling stories so that you connect the donor to the story behind the need that they care about. This might be counterintuitive to you, but believe me it’s true.
Emotions first. Then facts and information. Do it in every contact and content opportunity you have with your donor.