I am a psychology major and, for one reason or another, some people are led to believe that this gives me the ability to read people’s thoughts and manipulate their behavior. And for the most part, I am very grateful that this belief is untrue. However, Jen Shang, the world’s only philanthropic psychologist, studies how donor behavior is affected using psychological principles. This interview with Shang published in the New York Times provides an interesting perspective on how psychology contributes to donor behavior – reinforcing the importance of many of the factors that have been emphasized in previous posts of this blog.
Even though Shang hits upon certain words that can be used in order to increase support, I don’t think the main takeaway from this article is how to manipulate their charitable contributions. If anything, it is the exact opposite. Instead of focusing on the facts that studies show that collectively women are more likely to give if the solicitation letter mentions honesty, I think Shang is trying to highlight that the individuality of each donor still needs to be respected and maintained. Don’t use these buzzwords because that is what an article says you should or even because that is what a donor would like to hear. Say it because you mean it. For a donor, philanthropy is a journey, a series of decisions – such as reading outreach material, volunteering, and then giving financial support. Understand that a donation means something different for each donor and that they might be coming at the opportunity from different perspectives. It is hard to walk that fine line between presenting information in order to get people on board with the mission of the organization and deliberately presenting the information in a way that misleads them into donating. Build a trusting relationship keeping in mind their different perspectives and motivations for their contribution.