Why this typical human trait is the key to enticing your donors to give

Curiosity is a characteristic most people share, of course. But there’s something very curious about it.

Before the 17th century throughout Europe, according to science writer Philip Ball, curiosity was frowned upon. It was thought of as meddling in things you weren’t supposed to know about, presumably for your own good.

Once the 17th century dawned, all that changed. With the Renaissance, it became acceptable to ask questions, and curiosity went from vice to virtue. That’s lucky for us, because as fundraisers we want to use curiosity in all kinds of ways to get donors engaged in our appeals.

The question is how. Here are three things to consider.

Limit the information you provide. Curiosity is the gap between what we know and what we want to know. Information fills in that gap. So, to arouse curiosity, we want to provide just the right amount of information. If you give too little, you’ll fail to spark curiosity. But if you give too much, you’ll douse it.

Say you need a teaser for your direct mail appeal. Something like “special opportunity” withholds information, true. But it doesn’t give enough to whet the appetite for more. So, that one’s low on the curiosity scale. On the other hand, something like “How $1 saved 20 people in Sudan from certain death” gives just enough information to get people wanting more. That one would be higher on the curiosity scale. To arouse curiosity, pick and choose what you don’t say.

Promise a big reward or a big disaster. The idea here is to present something attractive to your donors that will draw them in. Or, to present the unthinkable, so they’ll take action to avert it.

For example, an envelope teaser might say something like this to promise a big reward: “YOU: the humanitarian admired for saving lives in the Sudan famine.” Donors might think, “Me, a humanitarian? How could that be?” and want to see more about it.

Or if we wanted to promise a big disaster, the teaser might be something like, “Famine exploding in Sudan. They’ll all die without your help.” The idea with presenting a big disaster is that people will often do more to avoid something bad from happening than to cause something good to happen.

Shock or provoke a little. Use this cautiously, but the idea is that, to arouse curiosity, you don’t always want to say something that satisfies your donor. You want to nudge them, maybe even challenge them a little, to get them to want to find out more.

In this case, your envelope teaser might be something like, “This girl starves to death in the Sudan famine while the despots feast!” Along with some healthy outrage, your donor will likely want to find out why and how this is happening.

These are just some ways to evoke curiosity. There are many more. Using curiosity is a reliable method of attracting donors, but it’s a rapier not a broadsword. It has to be used skillfully, and it has to align with your offer and your audience if it’s going to work the way you want it to.

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