For an increasing number of philanthropists, the concept of "data-driven giving" is a popular method of deciding where philanthropic dollars go. Those who hold this view insist that giving should be based on quantifiable and objective evidence, such as social return on investment. After all, the idea of a "selfless gift" is scientifically illogical - doing something to advance an ideal rather than creating a tangible return is not something our brains naturally crave.
Data-driven giving also gives rise to the idea that fundraisers, in turn, should adopt business principles focused on efficiency & effectiveness and encourage donors to make more calculated decisions based on those same principles.
However, Daniel Kahneman, author of the book "Thinking Fast & Slow," argues that humans take a fast and slow path when making decisions. Fast is instinct: based in fight-or-flight and prone to emotion. Slow is critical thinking: the word problem that takes you 10 minutes to unpack or a chess match involving thinking three steps ahead. In many cases, the "fast" thinking dominates the "slow," providing a path for emotions to control decision making.
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We often evaluate donor relations with far too much reliance on paper or what the data tells us. We do this because there is money involved, prompting us to think about the transaction logically. However, the financials are only part of the truth. The larger truth is that a donor's decision to give (and how much) is rooted in emotion.
If giving were entirely based on logic and "social return," only a handful of organizations would receive every philanthropic dollar given. And, the evidence is weak at best that shifting towards data-driven giving will unlock more capital. Moreover, most nonprofits are not leveraging the most critical drivers for giving, including a sense of urgency to act now and a personal and emotional connection to the cause. With so much trepidation about how this year's giving levels will compare to past performance, tapping into the power of personal relationships with donors is an area of proven opportunity in an otherwise uncertain year.
What emotional connections do your donors have to their giving history? Are they honoring family members or friends? Do they want to help your college open the doors of opportunity for others like them? Are they looking to make a change in the world so others can experience some happiness they've achieved or avoid some suffering they've experienced?
With so much trepidation about how this year's giving levels will compare to past performance, tapping into the power of personal relationships with donors is an area of proven opportunity in an otherwise uncertain year.
Sometimes we overlook a donor's emotional connection because we're focused on the business of the day – the numbers that get us to our goals. But, if we take a step back and think about our donors, we can bring joy to their lives and reach our goals. Pulling at our donor's heartstrings makes a considerable difference in terms of dollars because it gives them an avenue to support something near and dear to their hearts.
Whatever may be the source of this ongoing grappling with feelings in the fundraising world, it's a mistake to dismiss emotion-driven decision-making as unintelligent or thoughtless. Our emotional selves are the core of who we are, drive the bulk of our decisions, and work in concert with our more calculated decision-making abilities.
Whether or not your fundraisers are emotional relationship builders or logic-forward fundraisers, knowing their strengths and weaknesses is a great way to optimize your strategy. Check out Gravyty's webinar with our friends from Pursuant-Advizor on how you can identify your fundraisers' "super powers" and align their talents with your overall goals: