Three heartfelt tips to better advocating your cause
COO and CSO at Network for Good
Emotion is above all what galvanizes people to act. People support causes because they feel something, not because they think something. In fact, if you make people stop and think, they tend to do less good.
In a National Science Foundation-funded study that was published recently, a group of researchers tried different ways of asking for donations to help sick children. They wanted to see to what degree our feelings about ourselves and our empathy for others affected our decision to give—and secondly, how much those factors influenced the amount we gave. They pitted the heart against the head by having people focus on how they felt about sick children vs. having them calculate the value of the children's lives.
Stephan Dickert, Namika Sagara and Paul Slovic found that donor emotion definitely ruled. The single best predictor of the decision to donate anything at all was how the participants were feeling about themselves—for example, a desire to make themselves feel better or avoid regret about not donating. When they heard about the pain or need of sick children, they wanted to leave those negative feelings behind by making a donation.
The amount people gave was affected by the degree of empathy they felt toward the sick children. Donations were higher when folks were primed to think of their feelings. The more they were primed to think in an analytical, deliberative way, the less they gave. Feeling beat thinking in dollars donated.
This is important to consider if whether you work for a nonprofit or work for a company that supports good causes. How you discuss that cause makes a big difference in how much people care.
Because people give from an emotional place, giving literally feels good. The economist James Andreoni has called this the "warm glow" theory. People give money to save the whales not just because they want to protect the Shamus of the world; they are also giving money to feel the glow that comes with being the kind of person that helps save whales.
David Leonhardt in his New York Times Magazine article, "What Makes People Give?," points out that this is good news because it means philanthropy is not a zero-sum game. If giving were rational, we'd give less when we heard other big donations were happening. Instead, we have an urge to join forces with a cause.
In his lengthily titled book The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning and Gambling Feel So Good, David Linden explains some biological reasons for the warm glow. Certain activities trigger dopamine in our brain's pleasure center, making us feel good. We feel pleasure when we eat, drink and have sex. Also when we do drugs, gamble, learn, exercise and ... yes, give to charity.
So what does all this research about emotion and giving mean to the cause marketer?
1. First, you should focus on that fact that you are above all in the happiness business. Your primary job is to find the emotional core of your initiative and connect it to the consumers you wish to reach. Then give them the opportunity to feel great by doing good.
2. Don't talk in numbers or statistics. A cerebral case for your cause is less effective than a heartfelt story.
3. Be inspiring. People don't act because things are bad – they act to make things better. If you only paint a vivid picture of how bad things are, then how can consumers imagine – much less sign up for—a journey toward a better place? Project a brilliant image of what is possible so people can imagine how it will feel to be a part of your efforts.
Edited by: Lawyer Asad