Mosaic compatriot David Svet and I created a webinar for the Fundraising with Social Media series on how to use Pinterest to advance your organization. While we were building this session we batted around many wonderful questions and held several engaging online discussions. During a discussion amongst nonprofit development and marketing staff, one person’s position caught my attention. It’s a question related to the ethics of using emotions in fundraising.

He was concerned about how nonprofits created a sense of urgency around their fundraising efforts and whether that urgency (which he cautioned was an ethically questionable result of nonprofits engaging donors’ emotions) was in the best interests of a cause’s supporters. He questioned whether a sense of urgency and emotional involvement would impair a supporter’s decision-making process and alter their evaluation of the importance and timing of their involvement with a cause.

Emotions in FundraisingAdvertising and marketing research has produced a wealth of information about how we communicate, the psychology of our messages, how we interpret and receive information, and how we make decisions. More recently researchers have bent their attention on the psychology of philanthropy – how our brains work, what information we receive and process, and what motivates response.

We know that our decision-making process is an emotional one followed by rational reinforcement.

This doesn’t just happen when we consider our philanthropic endeavors but also our daily decisions: what clothes to wear, what we eat, what we buy, who we talk to. Yep, your choice of breakfast cereal this morning started from an emotional response so fast, you wouldn’t even register it.

So, if we know that our communications and decisions are inextricably tied into our emotions, are we acting in the best interests of our causes if we deliberately ignore research, best communications practices, and limit our ability to connect and get our message through?

The organizations we support and believe in are in competition with every advertising message, every need for our time, every entertainment option, and every other priority we each have.

If we examine why the Kony 2012 video campaign reached so many people so quickly it was because it adhered to fundraising communications best practices. There was a leader who was personally invested in the cause who told a personal story about something that was important to him. There was an “identifiable victim,” an individual whose face, name, and personal story we got to know showed us that we can have an affect. And there was a clear call to action in a defined timeframe that was easy for the prospect to execute.

These are best practices because they not only work in the video format reaching mass audiences that the Kony 2012 effort used, but because they work one-on-one, at events, through direct mail, and in funding proposals.  They consistently work in any appeal format.

Emotions in FundraisingWhile decoding the ingredients for success that made up the Kony 2012 campaign we asked what would happen if we could distill the elements of success into a format that you could use across all of your social media channels. If you had the specific roadmap that let you be certain that each of your social media posts was working for optimal fundraising impact, what could you accomplish?

We thought you would make incredible progress supporting your cause through your social media efforts. So we packaged up the information into the first session in the Fundraising with Social Media webinar series. And you can get this session for free! Just sign up here to receive your invitation to this session and more great fundraising with social media information.

Now, let’s consider the question whether it is in our donor’s best interests if their cause uses an emotional appeal when fundraising. Supporters are invested in the success of their causes. They believe their involvement will make a difference. They want to help and do not want to see the effort fail. We as cause leaders, volunteers, staff members, service providers, fundraisers, consultants and yes, donors, work to help each other connect and support something in which we personally believe; in which we are personally invested.

Fundraising is an essential process that allows for an organization to deliver on its mission. Is it in our donor’s best interests to be less than the best we can be when fundraising? When fundraising results mean the difference between lives saved or lost, opportunities extended or overlooked, beauty and potential developed or wasted, are we acting in our donor’s best interests if we accept less than best practices in the pursuit of our missions?

Every tool, every process, has the potential to be used unethically; to be put to bad use. Perhaps the ethical question doesn’t lie within the existence of the tool itself.  Perhaps the best way to value and do justice to our donors is to zealously pursue the success of our missions, to follow through and do what we say we are going to do with our donors’ investments, and honor their intentions.

What do you think about using emotions in fundraising?

Neuron photo by wellcome images Copyright All rights reserved

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