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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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Golden Age of Donor Communications Rises
Tom Ahern

September, 2012

It's a brain thing.


Tell little stories all over the place. The human mind laps that stuff up. 



We're in a Golden Age for donor communications, thanks to advances in psychology and neuroscience.


Many debates are over. We've never had more information to base our ideas, offers, and words on.


We now know for sure why a bunch of hoary direct mail triggers, like flattery and fear, actually work so reliably. Those emotional triggers have now been laboratory tested. We've watched the brain act in real time through MRIs. We know that flattery produces dopamine and a sense of trust for the flatterer. We know that fear tickles the amygdala, the earliest evolutionary brain bud.


We now know for sure that sad images definitely out-raise happy images, in a head to head comparison of response. That was figured out in the psychology lab. So those people who preach, "We don't want to go negative with our donors...."? They are simply wrong. Science says so.


And here's my favorite thing that science says: a taste for narrative is baked into the human brain. Again, dopamine. We take pleasure in stories. Great pleasure. Stories feel good in our brains.


Everything should tell a story: every picture, every caption, every offer, every headline, every deck, every pull quote, every testimonial and, of course, every article (but don't depend on them: very few people ever read past the first or second paragraph of an article, unless it's absolutely fascinating and professionally written).


And if some of this turns out to be half-wrong, I don't care. I'm a practitioner, not a scientist. Whatever advantage you have, you use. Until something better comes along. 


Visit Tom at 


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