So the Olympics are over – well at least until they start again in four years time. Did you see how those who had secured a medal were often lost for words when interviewed shortly afterwards?
“I literally can’t say how I’m feeling right now“, “Words can’t describe it“, were just two examples I noted.
Actually they are so right. Did you know that the part of the brain which deals with language is different to the one which handles emotion? The Limbic part of the brain hosts emotion and feelings. The Neocortex part of the brain is the rational analytic part which includes language. Hence saying how we feel is often difficult. It’s why saying why we love someone is not easy! It’s probably why many charities focus on what they do which is easy to say or write – rather than why they do what they do which is often routed in feelings and so difficult to put into words.
And why is this so important? Well the part of the brain that drives decision making is also the same place where emotion sits – not the rational part which processes language and analyses. It’s why many decisions are emotional. It’s why “going with your gut” is really going with the part of your brain that can’t express in words what you feel!
So what can you do and why is this relevant to fundraising? For starters discussing a case for support or a fundraising proposition in a meeting, or trying to write one by committee on a flip chart, is likely to miss the point unless you can create and capture some emotion in doing so and engage the limbic part of the brain where decisions are made (in this case whether to support you).
Just knowing this is a start. If you have a fundraising proposition that reads well then it probably isn’t right – it’s how it feels that counts. That’s the real test.
You can be alert to the way you seek those gems that help you fundraise and hit the spot. I recall the moment I changed the question I asked when visiting a project from “what difference has this made to your life?” to “how do you feel compared to how you used to?“. The answer I got from such a simple change in approach was dramatic. See my blog post from 5 years ago: ask the right question. I discovered this before knowing what I know now about how the brain works.
Which emotions should you use?
And finally think how this profoundly impacts your approach to fundraising. How can you communicate an emotional feeling? And what feeling should you choose? You have a choice. You can use negative emotions such as pity or guilt, or fear, all of which can deliver a response but often only in the short term. Or you can use positive emotions that lead to lasting long term support and focus on why you do what you do, such as love, inspiration, trust, and the emotion that drives olympians, determination (yes determination is an emotion – see Wikipedia definition below). I think much of our fundraising has been fuelled on the former – negative emotions. That’s ok for quick specific actions that are short lived and for direct response tactics or techniques. But the problem is you need to keep on doing them to recreate that feeling. And as I’ve said in past blog posts – we have reached the boiling point on this approach.
Now we need to move to the latter – positive emotions – because not only do they last longer, they also spread faster. This way others, if inspired (inspiration is another positive emotion), will advocate on your behalf and in so doing leverage their ‘social capital’. Positive emotions are emotions of engagement that encourage people to get involved and share the feeling they have. That’s the approach we now need.
“Determination is a positive emotional feeling that involves persevering towards a difficult goal in spite of obstacles”. Wikipedia.
Why do we need to make this change? Well increasingly we dislike being marketed to in a way that interrupts our day (creating an emotion that turns us off from giving) – and conversely we buy from people and organisations we trust (See this post I did in 2015 on the paradigm shift). TRUST is a feeling and so resides in the same part of the brain as decision making. It’s why a trusted recommendation trumps facts and figures. So focus your thinking on : how can you build trust, inspire others, and fuel determination to engage the emotional part of the brain. A subject for a future blog!
The short answer to build trust is clearly communicate why you do what you do, in order to attract people who believe what you believe. And to fuel determination set ambitious goals (BHAGs) that give a clear direction – as each successful Olympic athlete did in their build up to Rio.
If you are interested in learning more about how the emotional part of the brain drives decision making then check out the following books : ‘Start with the Why’ by Simon Sinek and ‘Switch’ by Chip and Dan Heath.