The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Sticky Week IV: Emotion and Calculation

To wind up Sticky Week, I wanted to relay some insights from Made to Stick about the role of emotion in giving. I truly believe most people give money for deeply emotional, personal reasons. That’s why statistics move us less than stories. Here’s a story from the book that reveals especially interesting nuances behind the emotions of giving:

Save the Children tested two versions of an appeal.

The first said, “Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than 3 million children. In Zambia, severe rainfall deficits have resulted in a 42 percent drop in maize production from 2000 as a result, an estimated 3 million Zambians face hunger…” You get the idea.

The second said, “Any money that you donate will go to Rokia, a seven-year-old girl from Mali, Africa. Rokia is desperately poor and faces the threat of severe hunger or even starvation. Her life will be changed for the better as a result of your financial gift…” You get the idea.

Researchers gave some study subjects one of the two letters and asked them to donate, if they wanted, and put any money in a sealed envelope. The people from the first appeal gave $1.14 on average. The second? $2.38. More than twice as much. People felt overwhelmed by the first appeal but motivated by the second.

Now it gets really interesting: the researchers decided to give a third group of people BOTH sets of information. People who got both letters gave $1.43.

The lesson?

Statistics shift people into a more analytical frame of mind. When people think analytically, they are less likely to think emotionally.

Researchers proved this argument by asking people analytical questions like math problems before getting the Rokia letter, while other people were asked to free-associate after hearing the word, “baby.” The people who did math before getting the letter gave $1.26 while the people who thought about babies gave $2.34.

Wow. What a story. Math makes us stingier!

Lots of implications for our donor communications, wouldn’t you say?

[Full disclosure: I sent a link of this blog to Dan and Chip, Made to Stick authors, and they said thanks. They offered to send additonal copies of their book to me — and I did ask for a copy of their book for two of my colleagues. I feel I should disclose this because transparency is important! I didn’t post because of the free books — they sent the books after posting — but did want to disclose I did receive something after posting about the book (which I received as a review copy) on this blog.]

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About This Blog
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Caryn Stein
Vice President, Communications and Content, Network for Good

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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