We’ve all had them. Sometimes it’s just a reaction to cold. But I’m talking about the other ones.
You know what I mean. The ones that break out when we’re really moved.
The feeling you get when you stare at a starry sky and think about how huge the universe is.
Our involuntary reaction to something big or beautiful or meaningful. Something too big to grasp.
Awe. It’s an emotion every fundraiser should understand.
The way it affects people can have huge implications for fundraising.
Awe is a positive emotion. It’s our reaction to something vast – and it’s capable of changing how we see the world.
Studies have shown that awe creates a diminished sense of self and an increased interest in the collective good. Awe predicted greater generosity and increased ethical decision-making.
Awe also alters our sense of time – so that we feel more comfortable sharing it with others. (Implications for volunteerism here.)
Enough said? Isn’t that what we want to inspire?
What creates a sense of awe?
Nature. Religion. Art.
Anything that feels too huge for us to understand. That reframes our worldview.
Anything that refocuses our perspective so we’re no longer at the center of our own universe. Anything that lets us feel like a small player in something immense and incomprehensible.
But how can you inspire that sense in donors?
The first step is understanding your donors and what moves them.
Let me share a quick story.
I worked for an organization that built and programs a series of urban parks. For years, the inside assumption was the events and programs were what mattered to donors. It’s most of what we talked about.
Then I took the time to survey our donors. And what we learned changed how we talked about their involvement. The programs were great, but not awe-inspiring.
Our donors cared about the parks. Experiencing nature in the midst of a city was meaningful even to donors who could no longer get to the parks.
They remembered how nature awed them and wanted to ensure it was available to others.
Events couldn’t compete with the power of a rushing river or the hush of green space steps from downtown.
But maybe yours is an arts organization? Again, you have to know your audience.
You can’t necessarily recreate the donor’s unique transformational moment. One person’s goosebumps are another person’s nap.
But you can remind donors of the feeling. Talk about the things most performances share. The hush of the darkened theater, the feeling of unity that grows in an audience-focused together on the stage…
Remind them of their awesome experience.
Ok, so your organization helps people who are homeless. What’s transcendent about sleeping on the street?
But seeing someone else choosing to help and changing a person’s life can be. Tell that story. Put the donor in the hero’s place. Let her know “you’re one person, but you have the power to do something amazing. You can utterly change someone’s life.”
I suspect there’s a reason for the common threads in most of the world’s major religions. Picturing ourselves in service to a greater good brings us together and makes us feel good about ourselves.
Humans have a deep desire for awe.
We long to have our perceptions of the world challenged and stretched. And when they are, we’re ready to act on our new views with open hearts and generosity.
That’s where you want to take your donors.
So go for the goosebumps. Learn what moves your donors. Then bring them there again.
Then go have an awesome week! (Sorry. I had to.)