Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 30 seconds

Nonprofits Should Tug At the Heart In Order to Affect Change

Successful solicitation depends on the story you present even more than the perceived appeal of the cause. The following are text excerpts from end of the year solicitations from two charities.


1)    Marla receives poor grades mostly due to her hunger. Her stomach hurts during class and she can’t remember the answers. Marla’s mother Janice works the night shift at Walmart and can’t afford to buy such basic foodstuffs as sliced white bread and peanut butter.

2)    Victims of Hurricane Sandy need help. Experts put the estimated dollar value of business revenue lost as a result of Hurricane Sandy at $25,000,000,000. A total of 8,100,000 homes lost power during the storm while as many as 200,000 people were made homeless.

Which copy most made you want to reach into your pocket or write a check—to offer tangible help? More than likely, it was the first of these two situations that moved you enough to make a donation.

According to a study by Deborah Small, Associate Professor of Marketing and Psychology, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, an appeal to the heart, rather than to the rational mind, was more likely to motivate people to give money to charity or offer other tangible assistance.

A 2011 article by Leon Neyfakh for the Boston Globe, entitled "Why We Give to Charity,” interpreted Small’s study to mean that more information makes it less likely that people will give. But in fact, Neyfakh’s interpretation is wrong.

Look at the information contained in the two scenarios above. In the first scenario, we learn several individual pieces of information:

1.    Marla receives poor grades.

2.    She is hungry.

3.    Hunger makes her stomach hurt.

4.    The physical distress she suffers as a result of hunger makes it difficult for her to concentrate on her studies.

5.    Marla’s mother’s name is Janice.

6.    Janice is not home nights with her child.

7.    Janice works difficult night hours at a poorly paid job.

8.    Janice can’t afford to purchase basic necessities for her child.

That is a total of eight pieces of information we learned about Marla and her situation. Whereas, in the second scenario we learned the following:

1.    Hurricane Sandy victims need help.

2.    Lost business revenues  come in at $25,000,000,000.

3.    8,100,000 homes lost power.

4.    200,000 people made homeless.

We learned twice as much about Marla than we did about the Hurricane Sandy victims, yet still, we were more inclined to help Marla than the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Why is that?

It is not learning more details about a situation that predisposes us not to help. Rather, it is the way that information is presented that affects our decision to act.

We don’t give charity with our rational minds, but rather from the heart. More facts and statistics don’t turn us away from an important cause. Instead, it is an appeal to the heart, an earnest entreaty, which generates caring and a true spirit of giving.


Esti Landau is a staff member of Kars 4 Kids, a leading car donation non-profit organization.

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