Philanthropy’s Emotional Connection: 3 Ways to Harness the Power of Donor Emotions


Successful fundraising requires an emotional connection between a donor and a subject.

Princeton University’s conference on “Experimental Approaches to the Study of Charitable Giving” teaches us three ways to harness the power of donor emotions.

1. Connect a Face With a Cause

Want to raise money to support an important cause? Research finds that people respond more to the image of a single victim than anything else.

In an experiment on poverty in Africa, subjects were shown three images: one female child, one male child, and two children together and asked to make a donation. Subjects overwhelming responded to the image of a single person over those in a group. (Male and female were neutral factors.)

2. Personalize Giving Relationships

Donors are more likely to give when they know a single fact about a person over knowing nothing at all. Based on our example above, use that child to tell a compelling story and create a social connection. Relationships are the basis of society and are a primary factor in donor decisions.

Remember the starfish story? A man sees many starfish washed up on the beach and begins throwing them back one by one. A runner comes by and says, “What are you doing that for? You’ll never help them all.” “Yes, but it made a difference to that one.”

While we may not be able to conceptualize the scope of a crisis or a major societal problem, we can all understand the importance of helping another person.

3. Donors Prefer Many Giving Options

Donors are more likely to divide their contributions among many different causes than focus on one. They want to feel as if they are benefiting as many people as possible.

To capitalize on this finding, organizations can diversity their giving options. Choice gives a donor more ownership and increases the transparency of an organization, thereby increasing opportunities for investment as trust grows. It also helps educate the donor as to the scope of the problem and its needs.

Joint Aid Management for Africa provides an effective model of giving in its online store. Donors can purchase from among the following items:

  • Feed a child for a year: $50
  • Provide a school kit: $30 to $40
  • Plant a fruit tree: $18
  • Purchase a hand pump: $1,500
  • Drill a water well: $7,000

It is important to note in this list the range from personal to community support. Photographs, short descriptions, and a stepped contribution scale entice the donor and shed light on the needs of the community.

By the way, this tiered list of giving options is the UNICEF model I cited in Shekels for School: The Business of Education in Israel.

Lessons Learned

While the connections between psychology and philanthropy have yet to be fully explored, we can utilize these lessons as we strive to promote the personal face of our organizations, connect donors with our missions, and provide enhanced options for giving.

In matters of personal responsibility, the heart is king.

Sources That Inspired This Post

2 Responses to Philanthropy’s Emotional Connection: 3 Ways to Harness the Power of Donor Emotions

  1. […] “Philanthropy’s Emotional Connection: 3 Ways to Harness the Power of Donor Emotions&#822… […]

  2. […] “Philanthropy’s Emotional Connection: 3 Ways to Harness the Power of Donor Emotion&#8221…– this is the post I referred to above in the Tell A Story section […]

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