Get your donors in touch with their feelings.People purposely watch movies, television shows and video clips that make them emotional. If you have watched the television show “This is Us,” you know before you watch any episode that you will be blubbering in your pillow before the show ends. Or you know when you watch CBS Sunday Morning when the “crying segment” is going to come on.
We put ourselves in those situations because we want to feel deeply. We want to be moved, to feel a bit of ourselves breaking. Why? Because it gets us in touch with our humanity. Stories that trigger emotion can take us back to a painful or joyful memory that releases chemicals in our brain.
How many Facebook videos do you watch each day that take you to the edge of your emotions?
So we know this about ourselves and other people, yet we have not yet grasped this concept entirely in how we cultivate and steward our major donors.
Donors respond and give out of their emotions. Period.
Yet many major gift fundraisers have a very difficult time using emotion to connect to donors. Either they believe that using emotion is manipulative, or they are not in touch with who they are as a person and they refuse to use it when thanking, reporting back and creating touchpoints for their caseload.
First, as a major gift fundraiser, is essential to be effective in your job that you know who you are, that you do the work necessary to understand your emotional triggers, and that you have a good grasp of your own issues and your personal being. This is why whenever one of us at Veritus interviews potential candidates for an MGO position, we will ask questions to get to the core of who they are. We want to know if someone can handle the emotion of major gift fundraising.
Secondly, the idea that using emotion in major gift fundraising is manipulative is, to Richard and me, ridiculous. The whole idea is to help break the heart of your donor. Obviously, the stories you tell have to be real, and you can’t make things up… that is wrong, and there is no place for that.
But we believe that throughout the year you need to take your major donors through an emotional rollercoaster that directly relates to your donors’ passions and interests. Facts and figures, charts and graphs, and showing long-term investment plans are all very important, but getting to the donor’s heart is what will inspire a gift.
Our advice is that as you make your strategic plans for each donor on your caseload, that all of your touchpoints have some kind of emotional trigger for your donor. Yes, every touchpoint.
With technology as cheap as it is, the only thing holding you back is your own lack of planning, or not spending enough time thinking creatively about this. Richard and I would argue that you should spend a ton of time and effort thinking about how you will break your donors’ hearts throughout the year.
I would do it like this:

  1. Know your donors’ passions and interests — Plan at least 6-8 touchpoints throughout the year that will create an emotional response in your donor.
  2. Sit down with your program folks to help them understand your strategy – Figure out where the emotional triggers are in their work. This will be easier for some non-profits than others, but the key is understanding your donor and connecting them to the mission.
  3. Use a wide variety of tools to deliver the emotion — Video, social media, photos, print, personal testimonies, documentaries.
  4. Brainstorm with your communication team how to use emotion in your key categories of contact — Thanking, reporting back, personal visits, email and phone.

Whether you like it or not, you are competing with other non-profits that your major donors are giving to. Who will that donor remember? The non-profit that gives them facts and figures, the one that sends the generic thank you letters and program reports? OR the non-profit that makes them feel something with every touch and connection?
The best way you can serve your donors is to break their hearts as many times as you can throughout the year.
PS – Learn more about connecting to your donors’ emotions in our free White Paper, “Transporting Your Donor to the Scene