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The Heart Leads and the Brain Follows

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

But Don't Make a Big Mistake



From the desk of Roland D. Rodriguez, CFRE


Why do people give? Most people give to causes that affirm their core values.  Research reveals that over 90% of people make charitable donations out of a sense of duty to give back to society and tackle inequality or hardship, using their own good fortune to help others.

Some studies also review how the presentation of the facts impacts the decision to donate.  But facts can be awkward and difficult to explain. They can be challenged by other facts. As President John Quincy Adams said “facts can be stubborn things . . . .”

So are facts the strongest motivation for philanthropy?    Of course not!

Underneath the facts, we find a common link.  Giving “feels” good. As one study revealed, “people describe internal triggers”. They often say things such as they feel bad for people who do not have homes, or it just makes them feel good to help others.”

Emotions lead, facts support.


But when we go to websites and brochures, a ton of space is spent on mission statements, strategies, and visions that are often dull and difficult to follow. Or, worse, on percentages, pie charts and numbers. 

Whether it’s buying a shiny new car or helping a great cause, you get the most impact by appealing to the heart and the ego. It’s about feeling good. 

So here is the most proven way to get this done . . . .  and one critical tip on what NOT to do.


People Love Stories

Instead of just talking about your accomplishments, show them via storytelling.

  • Captivate the reader with an engaging narrative that makes them feel like THEY were part of the story.  

  • Use vivid language to present a character, a desire or goal, and a conflict to overcome.

  • Set up the resolution, identify the turning point that leads us into a memorable and thought-provoking ending.

Let those you've impacted be your biggest advocates by capturing their story.  Bring the data to life in a way people can empathize with.


Four Easy Tips

  1. Go for the unexpected — Your story has to be memorable.  Make the the story about vision and drama, find a surprising twist.

  2. Keep it Simple — From a Defense Attorney: “If you argue ten points, when they get back to the jury room, they won’t remember any.” Be a master of exclusion. Focus your story on what’s most important.

  3. Make it Dramatic — In order to get people to care, you need to make them feel the breathtaking power of how they can touch lives.

  4. Create Urgency — Make the story communicate that time will not wait.  Something must be done now. Nothing is more important.


But Here's a Golden Rule

A good fundraising story is about one person.  Not a town, a city, or a flooded region. One hungry child, not World Hunger; one polar bear losing ice, not Climate Change; one homeless person, not Homelessness.

Did you hear the story about the abandoned dog on a boat?  A fire breaks out, the crew abandons ship, and the ship drifts away – but a small dog is left behind.  Soon this turns into a widespread international story, with hundreds of people looking for the boat and donating across the world.  It finally took the U.S. Coast Guard, at incredible expense, to succeed in rescuing the dog.  Meanwhile how many dogs are in shelters every day, and how many children across the world suffer from hunger, without inspiring such action?

I recently reviewed an online campaign that had 10 testimonials on the front page.  I wanted to cry, but only from frustration.  You don’t have to hit people over the head. 

ONE story.


A Personal Story

Recently I spoke with a father who described how his autistic son was bullied every day in school.  The boy literally walked around the school to get to each class, often arriving late and getting in trouble, rather than risk the halls. This caring dad tearfully explained that his son would not give up, and was the most courageous person he had ever met.  As he described his experience, his voice broke.  He called out and proudly introduced his son to me on Zoom.  Afterward, I got up and picked up my baby granddaughter and just hugged her with emotion.

The brain is simply not very good at grasping the implications of group suffering. We need to envision a face, a person, and a challenge to be overcome.

Make it personal.


Make the Donor the Hero

Many fundraising stories make the organization the hero. But donors don’t give because you’re excellent. They give because they are excellent, and you help them realize how much of a difference they can make.  


We’re in 2020

We’re also in the age of disbelief.  People only half-believe in the facts presented by the sources they sometimes, maybe, believe in.  And they believe most in the sources they care about.  Heart impacts brain.  

So stop trying to convince people with facts.  This is the worst time ever to do that.  You have to get them to believe in you first.


ONE powerful tale trumps 100 important facts

Stories provide an emotional connection with donors and help drive action. Storytelling connects you and creates an engaging and real relationship.  

Facts can be important, but people do not connect emotionally with facts. Perhaps a part of the story rings true to their own lives, or maybe they've seen similar stories play out with people they love and care about. Either way, it gives them a reason to get behind your cause by touching their heart and inspiring them to join you and make a difference.

If you want to know what finally happened to the little dog and learn more about storytelling psychology, check it out here: Little Dog Lost at Sea


Let's explore your stories and new ideas for successful fundraising.

Crosspoint Philanthropy

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