I’ve been doing a lot of research lately in prep for a talk I’m giving during our Fundraising 2020 Mastermind this summer. I’ll be talking about “The Psychology of Fundraising.” I’ve always been fascinated by the process of finding out where the potential donor is, and how I can craft a message that will get them to take action.

When attempting to influence a person’s behavior and get them to act on our behalf, the conventional strategy has been to try to convince them to change their beliefs, attitudes, or experiences in ways that make them want to take action. In other words, we try to get them to change their mind. That’s very difficult and highly inefficient.

Alternatively, when they agree with a positive statement about themselves, then see how your brand can help them express that belief, they are much more likely to take action.

  • They are more likely to try something new if they think of themselves as “adventurous.”
  • They are more likely to donate to charity if they think of themselves as “generous” or “compassionate.”
  • They are more likely to act on behalf of someone else if they think of themselves as “helpful.”
  • They are more likely to act if they think of themselves as a person of action

So what if we ask questions designed to confirm what they already feel (or want to feel) about themselves? Everyone can find times in their experience that confirm the answer to a question. If I ask, “Are you unhappy?” you are likely to find a number of reasons to say you are. If I ask, “Are you happy?” your mind will again find numerous reasons to confirm that you are. It’s called focused or channeled attention.

The fact is that everyone can think of times they were helpful. Everyone can think of times they showed compassion. Everyone can think of times they acted generously. They feel good about those times. Those positive feelings they already have about themselves can be channeled if we can get them to focus on them when thinking about our brand.

In his book “Pre-suasion,” author Robert Chialdini tells a story. We’ve all seen those mall survey companies with a clipboard asking shoppers if they would take part in market research. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of people who are willing to stop and actually agree to the survey is very low. But one marketing company decided to try a different approach. Before asking a person to be a part of their survey, the surveyor asked them a simple question: “Do you think of yourself as a helpful person?” By simply getting the shopper to consider and answer that question, their percentage of people willing to take the survey more than doubled. The simple act of considering and affirming the fact that they ARE helpful made them much more likely to take action to BE helpful.

So how do we focus our potential donor? What questions can we ask that might resonate with their existing beliefs about themselves in order to get them to take action? How about a few suggestions:

  • We live in a world that is increasingly full of stress and chaos. Do you view yourself as someone who wants to change that?
  • Most people complain about problems, but never do anything to change them. Do you think of yourself as a person of action?
  • There are so many needs in our world, and meeting those needs requires people of generosity and compassion. Do you believe you are a generous, compassionate person?

Instead of trying to change a person’s behavior by tapping into feelings of guilt or regret for not “being better,” instead affirming the positive traits they already believe about themselves can be a much more effective strategy if you want to persuade them to take action.

I should end with a quick disclaimer. I don’t see this as manipulation, or using mental mind strategies to “trick” someone into doing what we want. This is not hypnosis. But here’s a truth: we have all said, “Your communication is not about you, it’s about your listener. It’s not about what you are interested in, but what she cares about.” We have all been using this strategy in our programming for years. Maybe it’s about time we look for ways to use it more effectively in our fundraising as well.

I’m curious to know your thoughts. Feel free to contact me with ideas for questions you might ask your potential donors at


Priority ONE for 2022

Priority ONE for 2022

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