graphic with heart vs brain emotionsMost decisions are emotional, not logical. That is how you need to approach your work in major gifts. Let’s start by reading what others say about this topic.
Nedra Weinreich writes an interesting blog on facts vs. emotions, in which she makes the following points:

  • In a battle between logic and emotion, emotion will win over facts most of the time.
  • Researchers have estimated that 80% of decision-making is emotional, and only 20% rational. According to Kevin Roberts, CEO of advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi, “Reason leads to conclusions. Emotion leads to action.”
  • The fact is (whether or not it will convince you!) that emotions are powerful things. Feelings of frustration, patriotism, nostalgia, jealousy or fear can easily outweigh well thought-out, logic-based arguments.
  • Combine your most compelling facts with an emotional appeal. This is not a cynical thing to do – this is how our brains work!

Shayna Marks adds a lot of factual information about the role of emotions in decision-making in her article last February in Here are some highlights:

Only Human, a recent study by global creative agency gyro and The Fortune Knowledge Group, set out to prove that emotion plays a huge part in executive decision-making. After surveying 720 senior-level executives in the spring of 2014, Only Human found that “nearly two-thirds (65%) of executives say subjective factors that can’t be quantified (including company culture and corporate values) increasingly make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Only 16% disagree.”
Factors such as reputation, trust, and down-right gut instinct also play a huge part in choices when partnering with other businesses. Though numbers help, they are not deciding factors, Only Human discovered: “work risks are personal risks. This is why although hard facts inform or color our decisions, we are ultimately influenced by emotion and won over through our hearts, not by data.”
Neuroscience business expert Janet Crawford states that “Business is best when the people providing goods and services feel passion and commitment to what they are producing and their customers feel they’ve received value.” The operative word here is “feel.” When we use the term “rational” in business, we usually mean dispassionately data driven and informed by explicit measurable criteria.
The key findings in Only Human clearly show that emotions trump data, but it’s also true that both need to be present in order to make a truly informed business decision. As Christoph Becker, ceo/cco of gyro, put it: “business decisions are made emotionally and justified rationally.”
Becker goes on to say that “given these findings, it’s imperative that businesses looking to appeal to other decision-makers must focus on the pure idea of their business, and make them feel.”

The fact is that feelings and emotions play a large role in major gift giving. This does not mean that you should just write and talk pure emotion all the time. No. It means you insert emotion and feeling into everything you do in major gifts.
Several weeks ago I was with a CEO of a major southwestern non-profit. We were discussing the role of stories and emotion in the process of fundraising. He asserted that “people just want to have the facts, Richard. If we give them the facts about the need, they will reason their way to giving.”
I pointed out that over the 35 years of my career in fundraising, my colleagues and I had tested his premise over and over again in every medium: printed, electronic and personal presentation. And in every case – every case – the “facts” approach lost. This is a fact.
This is why Jeff and I are always encouraging you to take your major donor to the need so he can experience and feel the problem your organization is addressing. Notice I said “feel the problem.” Not just understand it; feel it. We often talk about having our hearts broken by the state of the planet, and breaking the donors’ hearts as well. Is this manipulation? No – it is about being present to reality.
The fact is that every caring donor is passionate about doing something to solve a problem in our world. Donors feel strongly about these causes and about solving these problems. And it breaks their hearts to see things going wrong in those areas.
So take steps to insert feelings and emotions into everything you do with your donors. Don’t leave out the facts. They do help, and they lend credence to your case. But the emotions are what will bring your donor to a decision.
In my next post I am going to talk about what you need to do specifically to insert emotion into your major gift communications. In the meantime, let your heart lead you. It will be good.