How to Insert Emotion Into Major Gifts

You can feel deeply about the work that you do, no matter if it is about people, animals, the earth and even inanimate objects like a piece of art or the work of an architect.

Whether you are in social services, relief and development, education, the environment, some form of medical research or care, or any of the scores of non-profit causes that exist today – no matter what it is you do, you can feel deeply about it. You just need to let yourself do it.

As I mentioned in my last post, major donor communication (of any type) must have emotion in it, if it is to be successful in making an impact on a donor. Facts and figures tell – emotion sells. It is the heart that carries the donor toward a decision. Leave it out at your peril.

But how can you be more effective at inserting emotion into your major gift communications without manipulation? Here are some tips:

Learn to feel the emotion yourself. You must start here because you can’t speak it or write it if you yourself don’t experience it. And it does take practice. Here is what Jeff and I suggest you do. Get a fix on the core thing that your non-profit does. Identify the situation you are addressing. What problem does addressing this situation solve, or what benefit is provided to society or the planet? What if no one addressed this situation or no one provided this benefit – what would happen? If this mattered to you, how would FEEL about it and what emotion would you experience? Spend some time on this to take in the emotions related to your cause.

Sit with the beneficiaries of your cause and ask them what would happen if no one did what you are doing. I say “no one” because a frequent retort to my statement of “what would happen if your organization did not exist” is “well, another organization would pick up the slack.” This kind of thinking short-circuits any attempt to understand and feel the consequences of a need not met.

So sit with those beneficiaries and set it up this way: “Let’s say no one on the face of the earth is doing what we are doing. What happens to you, and how do you feel about it?” If your cause is about providing food, someone may starve or be malnourished. If shelter, they will be exposed to the elements and they may die. If your cause is about the environment, talk to a lover of nature and say: “if this lake is not cleaned up, what will happen and how do you feel about it?”

Or if you are in education, say: “If this curriculum or this course of study were not provided by anyone, what would happen and how do you feel about it?” Or the arts: “If you no one ever composed or performed this type of music or produced this kind of art or performed this kind of play or opera, what would happen and how do you feel about it?” When you ask these questions, you effectively take yourself physically and emotionally to the front line of need. And you have FELT it and experienced the emotion of it.

Sit with these feelings and let them sink in. Learn to be comfortable with them. Make them your welcome friends. If you asked the questions above, you are now truly feeling what the “need” is.

It is the desperation of a mother who cannot feed her child. It is the terror of a refugee who has seen his entire family killed. It is the sadness of a conservationist who has watched the planet that she loves abused and mistreated. It is the loneliness and self-loathing felt by the small boy who has been bullied and abandoned. It is a world without music or art. It is the shame of a father who could never go to school and now is not able to find a job and provide for his wife and kids.

It is the doctor or nurse that could not provide the life-saving care and now must watch as her patient suffers and dies. It is the animal lover who has seen a beautiful lion killed so his head can become a trophy. It is the injustice forced upon a young woman who is falsely imprisoned. It is everything on the planet that is wrong, staying wrong and broken – and bringing the hurt, pain and dysfunction of that brokenness. It is about potential unrealized, and joy and hope never found, and laughter squelched. Let all of this sink in. Feel it.

Now, insert these newly-felt emotions into all of your communications. What you have just done is to allow yourself to feel deeply what others feel when life is broken. And now you must pass this on to your donors. So when you write a proposal, prepare a presentation, create an ask – no matter what communication you are creating, you must “take the donor to the need” just as you have taken yourself. You do this by talking about the problem or situation your organization is addressing, inserting a story that illustrates the problem (NOT the solution), and write about the consequences that will happen if the need is not met. This part is inserting emotion that demonstrates need.

But emotion can also happen on the solution side. You should share the joy and the sense of hope the drug addict now feels because, with your help, he has found a solution. Or the mother that now has a job. Or the river that has been cleared of all pollutants. The education that has happened that has given a young person a chance in life. It is all of the good that has been done and the celebration that is occurring – because a life once on a ruinous path is now restored, and there now is brightness replacing the darkness.

You should insert emotion into these stories as well, celebrating life, solutions, redemption and new beginnings. Don’t just tell the facts like “with your generous gift we did X.” No, get emotional about it. There is good news here! Shout it out.

This is how you take facts and figures and put emotional clothes on them. This is not about manipulating your donors. It is showing them what REALLY happens when the need grips a person or the planet and causes darkness. And it is what REALLY happens when a solution is secured. It is real life. Real feelings. No conjured up drama. Real life.

So jump in and feel deeply. Then pass it on to your donors. Things will never be the same.

Richard

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