Can you imagine all of the possible distractions your donors are experiencing right now?

Maybe they’re following nausea-induced stock price fluctuations.
Maybe they’re worried about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maybe they’re churning over the current election season.
Maybe they’re distracted by other nonprofit organizations’ fundraising.
Maybe they’re distracted by their own financial struggles.

And that’s on top of the usual stuff that distracts and eats up the attention of your average North American.

You really have your work cut out for you.

Because of all of that, you have to be sure you include one word in your fundraising and donor communication.

If you don’t include this word, you won’t raise as much money.

Sadly, it’s not as easy as just sprinkling the word into your copy like salt on your french fries. It’s not a magic word. Although it can create magical results.

I’m going to give you the word, but you’ll want to keep reading because you’ll want to understand why it’s so powerful and the right way to use it.

The word? “Because.” (I’m sorry it’s not as exciting as “Abracadabra.”)

Here’s a crazy example of how powerful “because” is:

Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, cites a study performed by Ellen Langer at Harvard.

Professor Langer set the study up like this. In the library, people were lined up to use the copier. She had her “plants” (her people who were in on the study) ask to cut in line to make their copies.

First, the request to cut in line was framed this way:
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?
The number of people who agreed to allow her “plants” to cut in line: 60%. (I’m impressed that it was as high as 60%, I don’t really love line-cutters.)

Later the request was framed with “because”:
“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
The number of people who agreed: 94%.
OK, that makes sense. People are polite. Maybe it was an attractive person asking. But pay attention to what they did next.

To other people, the request was put this way:
“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”
The number of people who agreed: 93%. The request was: because I have to make copies…well duh, that’s why we’re all in line. Yet, “because” on its own was influential.

Professor Langer wasn’t done. She upped the number of pages to be copied from 5 to 20. And in that situation, the times when a nonsensical reason was given for pushing in line got no more people to agree than the times when no reason was given. Conversely, when the reason for being in a hurry was given, it doubled the number of people who agreed.

In other words, using the word “because” satisfies the brain’s natural search for reasons. For small requests, you can actually short-circuit the process and trick the mind into moving to the next stage of the sequence as if a real reason had been given because it’s simply not important enough to devote brainpower to analyze the reason. It’s as if when we hear “because” we stop analyzing as closely.

But for larger requests (like asking a donor to take an action)—for 20 pages at the Xerox machine, this strategy doesn’t turn off so easily.

Please note that distinction. You can’t use nonsensical reasons in fundraising. Asking for a gift or for a donor to take an action isn’t typically a small request in the mind of the donor.

Why does it work? Using “because” still triggers a reason-why reflex.

Give a good reason, and people respond.

Judging from Langer’s experiment (and my experience), giving the donor a good reason will increase your response. I won’t go so far as to say it’ll double response, but any increase is a good one.

How can you use this strategy? Tell your donors why they should give. Feel free to use “because” in your copy. But this really isn’t a magic word or formula. You don’t have to sprinkle “because” everywhere. It’s as simple as giving the donor the “why.”

Why will their gift make a difference? Tell them and they’ll respond.

Oh, and some time let’s talk about the other two strategies for influencing behavior I used in this post. Can you spot them? Email me and I’ll tell you.

You can always reach me at sthomas AT Oneicity DOT com. Thank you for letting me know what’s up with you.

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Study citation:
Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635-642.

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Steve Thomas

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