Is this the exception to the ‘no statistics in fundraising appeals’ rule?

Tell an emotional story about one person. That’s the guideline for creating donor-focused fundraising that connects with donors and motivates them to give.

An example from Claire Axelrad at Clarification blog drives this point home. One headline says “24,000 children die from hunger every day” with a photo of a mass of starving children, while the other one says “Abidemi is starving to death” with a photo of a sad little girl.

Which one is the most compelling? Most people would say the one that talks about Abidemi, the little girl. She’s the “Identifiable victim,” the face of the problem that donors can relate to.

But wait – why can’t we use both approaches? Why can’t we use the statistics – which are admittedly surprising in themselves – in combination with the one identifiable victim? Wouldn’t we be covering both bases and doing a more complete job in our messaging?  You know – speaking to the heart and the head?

Well, not according to the research. If donors are presented with statistical information plus the identifiable victim, donations fall.

The story about one person won’t overcome the rational thinking that statistics lead donors to. The more left-brain things your donors see, the less generous they are. But the more right-brain things your donors see, the more generous they are. It’s not because donors can’t understand statistics. It’s because donors want to know that they have a connection with the nonprofit’s work, that a problem is solvable, and that their gift matters. Speaking to the heart and not to the head does that.

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