11 powerful emotions to supercharge fundraising letters

December 13, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Psychology 

emotions for fundraising lettersTo some extent, all commercial copywriting is based on emotion.

Whether you’re writing marketing copy for a car, a mutual fund, or a can of cheese spread, emotions play a part in the decision-making process.

However, nothing relies on emotion quite so much as a fundraising letter. How people “feel” about the cause will determine how they respond to your appeals.

While we humans are capable of an infinite variety of emotions, there are a few basic ones that work well in fundraising appeal letters. Here are 11 of them:

Altruism — Whether people are truly altruistic or have self-serving motives for giving is often debated. The best approach is to assume altruistic motives and appeal to other motives subtly. Assume the best of people and you usually get it.

Anger — Some highly emotional issues can cause feelings of outrage. This is a powerful motivator, but a tricky one. If you decide to be angry in your letter, maintain your anger throughout. Don’t drop out of character and slip into fuzzy wuzzy language on page 2. Your appeal should be along the lines of “This is outrageous and we have to stop it!”

Beliefs — Whether religious, political, or social, strongly-held beliefs drive the actions of many people. Find out what prospects and regular donors believe in and make sure your message is consistent with those beliefs.

Compassion — You can generate sympathy by painting a word picture of someone who needs help. Share details about that person’s life and ordeals. But be careful. If the problem is distasteful and you present it too graphically, you might make your reader turn away. There’s a fine line between sympathy and revulsion.

Ego-gratification — Gratifying one’s ego is not the same as being egotistic. It’s a sense of well being, a feeling that inner perceptions and outer realities are in sync. Since most people like to think highly of themselves, it’s best that you speak to them in an appropriately flattering tone. People want to live up to the perceptions of others.

Fear — Fear usually takes the form of self-preservation, donating to cancer research to save your own life in the years ahead, for example. This is a powerful motivator. It’s dangerous, though, because you can easily offend by suggesting self-serving motives.

Guilt — Discomfort and guilt are your emotional allies in any fundraising appeal. To spark a prospect’s desire to give, you must create a certain level of discomfort about the problem you are presenting. And the thought of not helping should cause a feeling of guilt within your reader. You can also cause guilt by giving away something, such as address labels or cards. It’s hard to use these items without reciprocating the gesture with a few dollars.

Idealism — If you have a cause with a big idea, you can frame your message around the “I want to change the world” appeal. Of course, many causes can be positioned as world-changing. The trick is to keep it believable. Even the most idealistic donors are very practical with their checkbooks.

Immortality — As children, we feel we’re going to live forever. As adults, we know we won’t, but we feel an overwhelming urge to try. Engraved plaques in a concert hall, published names in a newspaper, additions to hospitals, and other such tangible records of accomplishment are all symbols that allow a certain kind of immortality.

Joy — It’s too easy to focus on the more negative and selfish motivations for giving. However, for many people, giving creates a powerful sense of joy — the joy of sharing, of belonging, of being needed. Find the “Joy Factor” in your cause and write an appeal based on it. Many times, you’ll find it’s a winner.

Recognition — Everyone needs a pat on the back now and then. A simple “thank you” is good enough for some. For others, a certificate or some form of public notice is more appropriate. Some people give solely to be congratulated. So, congratulate them.

You might quibble about whether some of these are “emotions,” but trust me, they are. The human thinking process is largely emotional, so even a belief or a sense of idealism is strongly rooted in emotion, not logic.

When you’re writing a fundraising letter, you must find the right emotion for your appeal to generate the response you need for generous financial support.

I love writing fundraising letters. Do you? What emotions do you use most often?

Related posts:

  1. How to write a fundraising letter for Sister Catherine

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Smart Comments

5 Comments on 11 powerful emotions to supercharge fundraising letters

  1. Andrew B. on Dec 13th, 2010 2:02 pm
  2. Empathy is also quite powerful in fund-raising letters. It acknowledges and validates the reader’s point of view and creates more of a two-way dialog. It shows caring and concern. Essentially, it says “We know you’re busy, we know you get lots of requests, we know you don’t have much time. But you’ll quickly see why this one is important.” With empathy, you validate the reader as a person, not just someone who blindly writes checks.

  3. Dean Rieck on Dec 13th, 2010 2:23 pm
  4. Andrew,
    I suppose this could fall under ego-gratification or perhaps recognition. But I agree that speaking to someone as a real person is vital.

  5. Marjorie Fine on Jan 3rd, 2011 4:15 pm
  6. This is great. Thanks. Could you give a sample sentence for each one? This woiuld be very helpful.

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