Last Thursday, I attended the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Annual Conference. In addition to staffing our booth in the exhibit hall, I also took some time to attend a breakout session. The session was presented by Cary Walski of MAP for Nonprofits and Kevin Watson of Hamline University, titled “Email EQ – Tips to Tap the Emotional Brain.”

The main focus of the presentation was answering the question “Why do donors give to some causes and not to others?” It broke down the differences between a person’s emotional brain and analytical brain, and concluded that when a person’s emotional brain is tapped, they tend to be more generous when asked to donate to a cause.

Here are 3 tips that Cary and Kevin shared to tap the emotional brain

  1. Make your message tangible – People respond better to concrete (rather than abstract) messaging and examples. For example, the message “1 pack = 1 vaccine” on a box of diapers is more effective than the message, “buying these diapers will help vaccinate children around the world.”
  2. Avoid statistics of scope – People tend to disengage from a message when they feel that their contribution won’t make a large impact. For example, telling them that millions of people are starving in the world, then asking for a donation is less effective than telling them exactly how much food and for how many people each donation level would provide. They also shared that targeting a person’s analytical and emotional brain at once tends to get poorer results.
  3. Tell the story of “the one” – People respond better to personalized stories, rather than stories about a group of people. The presenters showed two different examples of an email appeal. One showed a group of young people and had statistics on how many teens spend the night on the streets each night, the other showed a picture of one girl with a quote about her experience on the streets. Though these particular emails weren’t tested, it has been proven that people relate better to a single person’s story.

Additional fundraising tips shared that I found most helpful:

· Split your list and do a/b testing on your emails, to see which version gets the best response.

· Make the transition from your email to your donation page smooth. Include not only graphic links, but also text links, so those who have images disabled will still be able to get to your donation page.

· Carry over the same fonts, colors and images from your email to the donation page for the most cohesive look.