Your fundraising appeals – too much emotion? Or not enough?

In your fundraising appeals, is it better to use facts or feelings? Logic or emotion? Before you answer, let’s take a look at an example, and you can judge based on your own reaction.

It’s an appeal from a conservation nonprofit, and it begins like this:

“You know what just staggers me?”

That’s a terrific opening – so good in fact that you naturally want to find out what comes next.

“It amazes me that a broad-tailed hummingbird can migrate over 2,000 miles between central Mexico to as far north as British Columbia, Canada, on wings that aren’t quite two-and-a-half inches long each. The bird itself is only four inches.”

It goes on in this way.

“When it’s migrating, a hummingbird’s heart can beat up to 1,260 times a minute, and those tiny wings flap 15 to 80 times a second.”

More facts follow. “With all that energy being expended, a hummingbird is generally just hours away from starvation; they need to sip flower nectar almost all the time just to survive. Now think again about the more than 2,000 miles a broad-tailed hummingbird might fly each spring…”

It continues with more information about the hummingbird, its habitat, and so on. Before long, all these facts, one after another, for five paragraphs, make you feel like you’re reading an ornithology text, and the whole approach seems to slowly run out of steam. It seems pretty clear that this appeal is focusing more on the donor’s head rather than her heart.

Maybe that’s intentional for this audience. Let’s stipulate that this appeal has mailed more than once, so it may be a control, and it may perform well.

But geez, this is for bird lovers and nature lovers. Where’s the awe? Where’s the wonder? Where’s the romance? Where’s the poetry?

By way of example, let’s take a look at some writing – a famous bit of writing – that is all wonder and romance about birds and nature. Yes, it’s poetry, and yes, it’s Tennyson, so the comparison is naturally unfair, since fundraising copy isn’t and shouldn’t be poetry, and in any case, nobody writing copy is Tennyson or even a weak imitation.

Still, it’s illuminating simply as an example of what language can do. Here it is:

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

That’s the whole poem. And – wow – in just six carefully hewn lines, you can see and feel the magical and majestic nature of the eagle. You’re right there, transported to that scene, witnessing it for yourself. It’s stirring … in exactly the way that any bird lover and nature lover would appreciate. The concrete imagery conveys everything that needs to be said or can be said. There’s not a textbook fact to be found. It’s all heart.

So, which approach grabs you? Is it the facts of the first example? Or is it the imagery and emotion of the second example?

Again, let’s stipulate that fundraising copy isn’t poetry, and yet, isn’t something that stirs your emotions like this what you would want from a fundraising appeal that you receive? After all, most donors receiving an appeal like this are probably just people who love birds and nature – not scientists recording their observations in a field guide.

It’s important to meet donors where they are. We’re appealing to donors — which by definition means we’re making a deeply felt request. Deeply felt. That usually doesn’t mean a recitation of facts. It means conveying honest human emotion, because in most cases that’s where you find the connection with your donors. And, in turn, where your donors find their connection with their checkbooks.

This entry was posted in copywriting, donor psychology, fundraising and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Your fundraising appeals – too much emotion? Or not enough?

  1. Charity Link says:

    Really love you original take on using emotion in fundraising – using the comparison of facts and figures vs poetry really highlights your point. We all know instinctively that emotion is the way forward in fundraising, but getting the balance is challenging too!

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