All fundraising appeals to the emotions
Every once in a while, you’ll hear someone in fundraising ask a strange question: Is it ethical to appeal to donors’ emotions?
There’s a weird assumption behind that question: an assumption that appealing to the emotions is some kind of a tactic, something you can choose to do or not do — the way we can choose to use address labels in direct mail.
Emotion is not a tactic. You can’t turn it on or off. You can’t decide it’s unethical, ineffective, or annoying and replace it with non-emotional fundraising. Like it or not, your fundraising is bursting with emotion.
Human beings live in a atmosphere of emotion. Every utterance we make is primarily emotional.
No matter what you do, you are appealing to the emotions. Every fundraising effort — every bit of human discourse — is an appeal to the emotions.
In my experience, fundraisers who think they are not appealing to the emotions actually do one of these things:
- They appeal to the emotions, but ineptly. Even if you attempt to make your case in a completely flat, colorless, emotion-free way, that itself is a type of emotional message. It’s the emotion of ennui and postmodern spiritual deadness. It’s extremely unappealing for most people, so it’s bad fundraising.
- They appeal to their own emotions rather than their donors’ emotions. They’ve labeled their own emotional triggers as rational thoughts and think the triggers that tend to move donors are of a less rational and noble type. There’s no small helping of arrogance in that assumption. It also leads to bad fundraising.
Appealing to the emotions is not unethical. It can’t be.
The real question we should be asking is this: Is it ethical to raise funds incompetently so you waste your fundraising dollars?