Believe me, you want to be tagged! And I don’t mean in the ‘finding your web content’ sense. I mean in the sense of first impressions.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the roles of emotion and logic in consumer purchase decisions, and casually mentioned the pop science on left and right brain functioning.

Actually, I think the subject — how the brain works — deserves more attention from fundraisers. After all, how can you design a more fuel-efficient car if you don’t have a proper grounding in chemistry and physics?

Fundraisers need to understand better how people (i.e., donors) process the ‘stuff’ we throw at them — words, images, and experiences. The research on all this extends from the ridiculous — what part of my brain lights up when I see a Coke bottle — to the sublime (e.g., read the works of Antonio Damasio).

But for an excellent overview of the state of the art, read this current article in the Harvard Business Review, titled Your Brain At Work. [Free registration required.] Not only do you not need to be a neuroscientist to understand it, the authors discuss the subject in a way that makes very clear its relevance to your daily efforts.

Take this passage about the ‘Affect Network’, one of four aspects of brain functioning* around which there apparently is wide consensus amongst researchers …

“As the brain encounters events, choices, and people, it tags them with emotional significance. When people later have similar experiences, the brain accesses the tags as a shortcut to producing the appropriate feelings—doubt, anxiety, happiness, excitement. Say you tried habanero peppers once, and their heat was painful and ruined your night. Later the sight, smell, or even mention of habanero peppers (or the restaurant where you ate them) will cause the affect network to produce unpleasant feelings that make you avoid them. The important point is that you don’t have to do any rational analysis to decide whether to eat habaneros the next time they’re presented to you.”

Indeed, the authors note that often your brain has made a decision before you’re conscious of it … the concept Malcolm Gladwell popularized in Blink.

I can relate that very directly to fundraising. Can you?

Think about your very first contact with a donor. It must have been sufficiently satisfying to get ‘tagged’ positively (no habanero peppers!). Then, what did you do next to reinforce (or not) that initial tag? Was it something that would reinforce that ‘shortcut’ the authors talk about? When your donor simply sees that logo of yours in their mailbox, do they faint into your arms?! No logic required?

I’d suggest your nonprofit gets two, maybe three, chances to ensure a strong positive tag. After that, you’re already in danger of losing them … “Oh no, not them again!”

How well are you using your three chances?


*It’s much more complicated than left brain/right brain. The four networks, with their significance to your business life:

  • The Default Network: How to Unlock Breakthrough Innovation
  • The Reward Network: How to Structure Incentives
  • The Affect Network: How to Use Gut Instinct
  • The Control Network: How to Create Achievable Goals


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