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25 July 2011


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Thank you for your interesting post. However, as you've already indicated, we need to be careful how much weight we give the study. In addition to the reasons for caution that you already cited, we need to be careful because the study does not indicate the impact on donor retention of using sad faces. For example, continual use of sad images might lead to donor burnout and attrition. It also does not address the issue of when an image becomes exploitative of the subject or manipulative of the recipient. I reported in my book ("Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing") that Save the Children used happy images of the children of Haiti who were beneficiaries of the nonprofit's services. The idea was to give the donor-public hope and to show them a way to make a positive impact. While I don't know what image testing Save the Children has done, I suspect the decision on what images to use was made very carefully. From the cheap seats where I sit, Save the Children doesn't seem to be suffering from its decision. Intuitively, I believe that we must present prospective donors with a problem. But, we must also show them a clear solution that they can participate in. In some cases, the use of sad images might accomplish that but, as Save the Children found, happy images can also be quite effective.

A DM fundraisers once asked me to help with a sad versus happy face test. The less cheery image fared slightly better although it was a small sample size. Given we did the test because someone was adamant that happy faces would always be better, it was enough to spark some internal discussion on the subject.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It's not about any technology, medium, or technique. It's about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It's already here. More.

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JeffJeff Brooks, creative director at TrueSense Marketing, has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 20 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you'll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff.brooks [at] truesense [dot] com. More.

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