Feelings precede giving: Case study

Notably re-quotable

Tom Hanks Explains It All (NY Times): “Look, there’s plenty of reason to be demoralized. Goodness is not a constant, and the good fight is not always fought, but there is a strength and a resiliency and an eventuality to vox populi.

Please VOTE. Every American who can: VOTE in 2022, no matter your politics. Don’t let extremists on either side steal these mid-terms because you couldn’t be bothered. Don’t tilt the math in their smirking favor. The cancer attacking US democracy isn’t polarization. It’s low voter turnout. Show up.

File under: FEELINGS trigger support (science; not a guess)



It was March 2, 2020 … the pandemic was just about to rear its ugly head. But almost no one knew that yet. We sure didn’t in Scotland, in view of Loch Ness (the blue spot in the middle of the photo), holding a masterclass at a small inn with a very fine kitchen, a place called The Inch (upper left in the photo).

The goal: in 2.5 well-fed days, to train more than a dozen charities to double their fundraising in the next 12-18 months, using methods researched over 15 years by the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy.

All we knew that particular Monday morning as class and instructors ate their first breakfast together was this: the Chinese delegation to the masterclass had suddenly cancelled. For some reason, they couldn’t leave their country.

Any feelings?

I was at The Inch as a “writer in residence” sort of … a minor role.

Mostly, I was there to learn.

For a couple of years, I’d been trying to “get” what’s called the “psychology of philanthropy” (nickname: Phil Psych)… and I still felt like a clueless dabbler.

So … I was scribbling frantic notes … as the Institute’s founders, marketing professor Dr. Adrian Sargeant (he’s the one in the cowboy hat) and colleague psychologist Dr. Jen Shang (no hat), unveiled one amazing insight after another.


The first thing they’d done that morning was give everyone an appeal letter from a smaller charity, written by someone on some staff with some skills and training. It was good enough; maybe not yet great by professional standards.

Class assignment?

Quickly read it. Listen to your heart. NOTE where in the letter (if anywhere) you first FELT something.

After 5 minutes, we all dutifully reported. What was fascinating was that people responded to different things. You’d respond to one statement in the letter. I’d respond to something else. It was all over the place.

And then suddenly Adrian blasted the class with the following pronouncement, loud as a foghorn:

“Gotcha! I made you feel something!”

We giggled. His point? THE point?!? The point of Phil Psych? The point of ALL donor communications?

To make the reader/listener/viewer/recipient FEEL something. Doesn’t matter WHAT exactly … as long as you FELT something.

Why? Because feelings trigger more support, as neuroscience teaches.


Which brings me to today’s featured fabulous exhibit … the following amazing capital-campaign case for support … written by Leah Eustace (a member of The Case Writers team), designed by Kelcie De Wildt, for the Regina Humane Society … and already (in May 2022) a campaign that’s reached 86% of its goal.

Look at the cover. Feel anything? Does the word “Almost” touch your heart? A word repeated 4 times. How about the strong eye contact from a beguiling pup? Feeling that?



Now consider the first spread below. Feel anything? Notice the heavy use of the word “you” in the biggest type. YOU makes the story about the reader … instead of about the organization.

NOW consider this recurring “Letters from the heart” series. It paces the case. One letter was written by an abused and adopted cat. One by a dog. One by a house-school class with anxiety challenges that benefit from having pets nearby. One by young brothers in an adopting family.

Want to see the entire ALMOST HOME case in all its glory? Of course you do!!! Click here.

PS: There’s always this: “We don’t have puppies and kittens! How can we raise money?” Arts groups especially despair.

Technically, though, the answer is easy: Just give your best-targeted donor/prospects (e.g., arts lovers) a great problem to solve with their support (e.g., “wouldn’t you like more good-to-great art locally?”) … and you’ll fly your mission to the moon!


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Nonprofit Nation: New and useful podcast

HERE. Best guru ever … for me, anyway. (For Sim One, too; we automatically bought every book Seth published.) His advice has steered our rambling journeys out of the ditches beyond count. Here’s his take on history. It’s soothing (sort of); intelligent, always.

Ahern how-to webinars: LATEST menu

HERE. I don’t say yes to everything. But during the pandemic marathon I have often said YES to presenting for free. Check out my current menu of shorter-form webinar offerings. Since January 2022, I’ve done 11 webinars: 2 were “pay-for” (a million-dollars worth of insight for $129; they were well-attended); 9 were free (also well-attended). ALL were customized to the target audience.

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