Fundraising on both sides of the brain
State Manager Steven Richardson on engaging potential supporters both rationally and emotionally
Popular culture would have us believe that logical, methodical and analytical people are left-brain dominant, while the creative and artistic types are right-brain dominant.
According to the latest scientific research, however, this idea has been largely discredited, but I believe it’s useful to consider this dichotomy when thinking about fundraising. To successfully attract potential supporters it is essential to engage equally with their rational and emotional selves.
Often I am confronted with arts organisations who are frustrated that they haven’t been able to gain support from private donors. “If only potential donors knew about our work they couldn’t help but be impressed and understand the worth of our work and then be compelled to give. All we need is an introduction to well off donors” is a refrain.
This misconception is built on the idea that all an arts organisation needs to do to attract support is talk about their outcomes, results and their quantifiable measurements. These are, more often than not, impressive; and there’s no doubt that the arts are populated by many extraordinary people doing extraordinarily worthy work in often challenging circumstances.
Equally there are times when arts organisations deeply immersed in their work will contend that: “What we do is fabulous…it simply should be supported”. But it’s left there without an engaging or compelling narrative to animate and expand this contention.
We humans are emotional animals, our existence is deeply affected by our feelings and reactions. Personal, emotive stories can connect our organisations with donors and prospects in a way that facts and figures can’t. A powerful case for support should not only outline our quantifiable success but elicit strong feelings in the recipient. The prose should be first person, crafted to lift and inspire, and backed up by irrefutable facts. Ideally this case for support will include actual engagement with an artistic experience.
One of my favourite truisms is that the best advocate for our art is our art. By this I mean that if an artist’s work is engaging and powerful it can really crack open the breastbone and speak directly to the heart.
It can bypass our rational side and connect emotionally and this connection can be incredibly powerful as a tool for fundraising. This emotional connection is as important as all the KPI’s and measurable outcomes we can muster. We must have both as each has a role to play in capturing the minds and hearts of potential donors.
Arts organisations often have a huge advantage over other worthy causes. They can use the actual experience of their art as a means to communicate value to a potential donor. This is not about measurable, KPI’s and the like…it’s the story, the emotional journey, the narrative. The emotional experience is the best initial advocate for the case for support.
Think of someone about to buy a luxury yacht. Arguably, no one buys a luxury yacht (or any major luxury item) purely rationally. Sure the rigging and sails must be sound, the hull must not have any holes in it and the navigation system must work. But the embodied experience of sailing must also be something that we’ve fallen in love with. It’s the wind in the hair, the spray in the face and the sun on the skin – the experience of sailing is the clincher in this transaction.
Our aim should be to engage and interest potential donors in a way that ventures beyond the numbers and strategic planning documents – to tell a powerful story about our organisations – and trigger strong emotional reactions. Once this is done following up with facts and figures can make our fundraising easier.
And of course, if our potential fundraisers aren’t connecting to our art or programs on an emotional level, our fundraising becomes just that much harder. We must ask ourselves: has anyone truly fallen in love with anyone or anything on the basis of a rational argument? And similarly: when we do fall in love with something, isn’t it difficult to dissuade us with rational thinking? Truly effective fundraising will appeal powerfully to both our rational and emotional sides.