The goal isn’t met. Time is running out. Your appeal urges donors to act right away, or bad things may happen.
“Can’t we keep it upbeat? You know, focus on the good stuff?” a board member will ask. “We know that’s more effective, right?”
Well… I don’t think I do know that.
My instinct says when the need is urgent, or a deadline is approaching, sharing the urgency with donors is what will work.
And often, what’s meant by “upbeat” is “all the things I like about our organization” – that is, organization-focused copy.
But my instinct certainly isn’t infallible. I decided to see if there were any answers out there.
The answer is: it depends.
Timeline and urgency
Researchers looking at purchasing habits found that negative messaging was more effective when there was time pressure to buy. Positive messaging worked better when the purchasing decision wasn’t driven by a deadline or scarcity.
So perhaps negative messaging – for instance, “if we don’t raise $250,000 by June 30, our preschool reading program will have to be cut” – might work better. There’s a deadline (urgency) and there’s the fear of loss.
(I’m not sure there’s much good fundraising that isn’t urgent. If money isn’t needed, why ask?)
Donors need to feel they’re making a difference. If all the messages they receive are negative, they may feel their gifts are in vain. It may be that negative messaging is most effective in attracting donors – and after that, you should be sure they get a more varied diet.
Guilt and absolution
Guilt is often seen as a negative emotion. So fundraisers are often wary about it. They’re afraid of being manipulative.
But we experience guilt for a reason. It’s useful. Guilt is tied to empathy – an emotion we definitely want to encourage in donors. When we feel guilty about an injustice in the world, or about our warm home and full pantry, guilt can move us to do something about it. Acting in a positive way – by making a donation – absolves us of our guilty feelings. At least temporarily.
Focusing on good news – like for instance, a list of your organization’s accomplishments – doesn’t have the same emotional heft. There’s not much to draw donors in.
Why not have it both ways?
You’ve probably spotted a pattern here: negative and positive work best together.
I’ve written about emotional triggers before. Balancing emotions can be powerful.
So to return to my first example, we could keep the urgency. We could keep the fear of program cuts and the deadline.
Then we pair it with the positive.
That’s the donor.
The donor’s power to change the forecast. Her control over how the story ends.
That’s great balance – urgency and salvation working together.
What do you think?
Photo by George Hoden