I like candy. That's why I like Halloween -- the only reason, come to think of it.
The other day, I was "sampling" the candy we've bought to give the kids who come to the door (we can't give away candy I don't personally endorse, can we?). I ate a couple of Tootsie Fruit Rolls. These are fruit-flavored versions of regular brown-flavored Tootsie Rolls. The regular kind taste like an unholy combination of fake chocolate, wax, and dirt. The fruit version is pretty yummy.
While I was eating a Fruit Roll, I noticed the release of saliva that followed biting into it. It was a pleasant sensation that went well with the sweetness and chewiness of the candy.
I looked at the ingredients. The sixth ingredient is citric acid. Sourness. It makes you salivate.
I suddenly had a movie playing in my head: A meeting upstairs at the candy factory. Some guys in suits are talking about saliva stimulation. You can have too little or too much. Or the Goldilocks amount: just right. The guys in suits are looking at diagrams of heads, featuring the saliva glands. One of them is pointing them out with a laser pointer and recommending 12.3% more citric acid, because it will increase saliva production by 9%.
It's so clinical. They're talking about manipulating my saliva glands. As if I'm a lab rat. As if they have a remote-control and I have no choice in the matter. How can they be so manipulative?
Then I remembered regular Tootsie Rolls. Yuck. Seems they failed to be "manipulative" when they developed that recipe. Thank goodness the candy scientists finally got around to being scientific and manipulative when they made the Fruit Rolls.
I often get asked about the techniques of fundraising: When we do things like write short sentences, underline copy, and tell emotional stories -- isn't that manipulative? Isn't it like reaching into their brains and turning a switch that makes them donate?
There are two answers to that:
- We can't force people to give, no matter what we do. People who don't want to donate won't donate. Our "techniques" only "work" with people who want to give. I can eat or not eat Tootsie Fruit Rolls, no matter how well-tuned the citric acid level is.
- The moment you decide to ask people to donate, you are in the "manipulation" business. The choice not to use proven effective "techniques" is the choice to be bad at what you do. They can make nasty Tootsie Rolls or delicious Tootsie Fruit Rolls. Which would you rather they make?
So-called manipulation in fundraising is really just doing our job. That's the trick -- and the treat -- of our work.