Good News-Bad News

on in Fundraising

“If you turn the page, this child will starve…”

Remember that one? Quite dramatic, and for many years held up as the gold standard in fundraising pitches.

Who could resist? The supposition was that it was within your, the reader’s, power to transform a life from one of hunger and misery to one of potential.

But recent research has proven that fundraising pitches accentuating the positive dramatically out-perform messaging based on righting wrongs.

How many of us fundraise from a position of vulnerability? From an appeal to compassion, empathy, concern?

It turns out that joining in to give a leg up, is a much more effective fundraising request.

British researchers Jennifer van Heerde-Hudson and David Hudson, as reported in a recent NY Times article, put two appeals for the same cause head-to-head.

One appeal urged readers to “donate before it’s too late,” with a picture of a sick child.


The other showed a smiling child with a sign “Future Doctor” and proclaimed “all of us sharing a little more can make a big difference” to “educate the next teacher, farmer or doctor.”

The winner? By far the second one. “The data was clear,” said Mr. Hudson: “If you can trigger a sense of hope, donations go up.

We all want to be part of a winning team. We want to take part in the exhilaration of achieving good news – not just burdened with eradicating bad news. We want to be reassured that at the end of the day, the story will turn out positively, if we extend our help.

And more and more research is adding to that picture – that creating empathy and connection between donor and beneficiary is much more powerful than the urge to fix a negative condition, no matter how distressing the moral injustice.

The frame is shifting – necessitating a re-look at our appeals. Are we asking donors to help those worse off, or to extend a hand to someone who, with our help, will succeed?

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