(or a Philanthropic Pharmacist if it seems slightly classier…)
This blog is taken from Making the Ask by Bernard Ross and Clare Segal. The book explores how to use neuroscience in major donor solicitation. It’s available from good booksellers like Directory of Social Change and on Amazon. You can find out more about the book’s 20 tools here.
Let me explain…there’s a family of four major neurochemicals designed by evolution to work on different parts of our brain and body automatically and unconsciously. They can help you fundraise.
You’ve probably heard of these Four Horsemen of the Amygdala: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins, collectively remembered by the acronym DOSE. If you’re asking a donor, especially a major donor, for support you should be organising stimuli – words, images, experiences – in a way that promotes DOSE production, and links altruistic addiction to your cause.
Dopamine is responsible for motivation towards a goal. Importantly, it’s about the pleasure from anticipation rather than the actual result. That anticipation drives us to keep trying, and levels of dopamine go up when getting closer to a goal. This is how Candy Crush loops you in. People are addicted to dopamine and will repeat behaviour that delivers a measure.
Implication: you need make sure your prospect can see how they are driving progress. A diagram, or a graph showing how close the project is to success will help engage prospects here. Give current supporters regular updates on their impact. Donors need to feel agency to get the dopamine hit.
Oxytocin helps build empathy and social bonding. This is a drug we get hooked on at a very young age. As a breastfeeding mother and her baby gaze at each other, oxytocin is delivered via her breastmilk. Subsequent eye contact between mother and child drives up oxytocin levels in both.
This bonding over eye contact is then wired in for life – for example, when lovers meet. Disney uses dopamine: cartoon characters have enormous eyes encouraging you to feel empathetic. Fundraising images involving eye contact promote empathy – driven by an increase in oxytocin.
Implication: The words and images in your case for support should promote oxytocin. For example, use pictures of individuals looking up and out of your fundraising collateral. Look especially for images where individuals have large eyes. Create experiences that help the prospect understand how it feels to be in that situation.
Serotonin acts as a mood regulator and promotes a sense of self-worth. Lack of serotonin is often associated with anxiety and depression. You can promote serotonin though exercise, sunshine and healthy food. We often have a serotonin rush when we reflect on a happy memory.
Implication: Find out where the prospect gets their sense of esteem from. Some examples… emphasise a prospect’s importance in the community- the leader guiding others. Encourage them to remember a time when they felt a sense of achievement and link it to your proposition. Secure encouragement from someone they respect– a spouse, a business partner, or a celebrity.
Endorphins make you feel good after a challenging run or workout — your ‘high’ is an endorphin rush. Their real purpose is to mask pain. This is vital to your evolutionary success, enabling the fight or flight response to kick in. Endorphins occur naturally when we take exercise. You can measure particularly high levels at the end of a charity run.
Implication: even for a wealthy person, making a large gift can be quite emotionally if not physically painful. Persuading a prospect to take part in an activity with you can help generate endorphins. The activity can be quite small, such as walking around your site, or much bigger, such as making a visit to a refugee camp. Anything that involves a degree of physical effort can help.
Together, these four chemicals can create a powerful impact on a prospect’s receptivity to your message.
Oh and if you hate the idea of Donor Drug Dealer try being a Philanthropic Pharmacist- feel the serotonin in the rebrand?
Feeding the Altruism Addiction: Case Study
Fundraisers in a Scottish theatre company used DOSE to help persuade major donor prospects to pay for a lift, a lift that would make it easier for elderly theatregoers or those with restricted mobility to enjoy access throughout the theatre. The Drug Dealing Development Team organised a solicitation event at the top of the building, and got to work on DOSE cues:
- Dopamine: On the way up the stairs there were posters about other donors who had already contributed signalling how close the target was. The prospects knew when they reached the top they could make the project happen.
- Oxytocin: Walking up the stairs drove empathy for the beneficiaries. The prospects had spent their lives going to the easy-to-get-to ‘posh’ seats. Pictures of the potential beneficiaries looking at the prospects lined the walls. (There was a moment of truth when these prospects had to walk downstairs to visit the bathroom!)
- Serotonin: As pledges were made in the small group every one of those donors could feel involved and valued. (When the work was done donors were given a piece of the old stair banister mounted on a plaque- serotonin to go!)
- Endorphins: The prospects were slightly older and maybe a bit less fit. The physical exercise of actually getting up the stairs, somewhat out of puff delivered an endorphin surge. And a second hit kicked in on committing a significant contribution.
Want to know more?
You can enjoy an intensive in-house training in the book’s 20 tools and enjoy the major donor success achieved by organisations who’ve already benefitted from the training like Trussell Trust, SmileTrain, Alzheimer’s Association (USA), and UNHCR. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org