Fundraising and President Obama's Tears

Image copyright Halloran. Used with permission.

Image copyright Halloran. Used with permission.

It wasn’t the facts or the arguments that moved the needle. It was the display of emotion.” That, or something very close to that—I was still waking up with my cup of coffee in hand—was what I heard David Axelrod of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago say about shifting public opinion on gun control.

CNN reported this morning that, while the American public is skeptical about whether or not the gun control measures that President Obama announced this week will be effective, they are, nonetheless, supportive, with 60% of the public supporting the measures.. Both the President's approval ratings as well as the support for his policy were on the rise this week following his televised town hall appearance, CNN reported. David Axelrod, a crack political analyst who was part of the “Audacity to Win” campaign team behind Obama’s bid for the White House, had sliced and diced the post-Town Hall polls this week. He shared on CNN this morning that it was not any of the arguments, facts, or data that were discussed during the Town Hall, but the riveting moment when the President shed tears over the loss of children’s lives at Sandy Hook, that changed the hearts of Americans.

Again and again direct marketing experts like Mal Warwick  have counseled that we shouldn’t omit appeals to the heart from our funding requests. Khaled Allen writing on the Cause Vox blog suggests that one important function of emotion in appeals is that it helps the reader to connect with our organization and our cause. After making that connection, the reader is then able to hear the facts that will close the deal for us. In other words, he contends, it’s the old adage about “not caring how much you know until you know how much you care” and being able to connect demonstrates a level of caring.

We know that emotion drives consumer purchasing behavior. As David Axelrod well-knows, it plays a strong role in shaping political opinion and voting decisions. Why wouldn’t it play a role in decisions about donating?

As I listened to David Axelrod’s commentary on what had swayed public opinion on the President's gun control actions this week,  I was reminded that when we in the nonprofit community work on our email and direct mail appeals, we are routinely engaged in debate with members of our board of directors, staff members, and, sometimes, even ourselves, about the role emotion v. reason should play in our communications.

The next time you are working on an appeal and you have your doubts about making your appeal emotional or someone on your board insists that donors really want statistics so you should leave out the story drama, just remember President Obama’s tears—the tears that swayed opinion on one of the most stubbornly gridlocked political issues of our times.


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