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Emotional engagement and the evolution of fundraising

Emotional engagement is pretty big business, which is why so many promotional campaigns (especially around Christmas) are designed specifically to make you go “awwww!” It’s also the reason that videos of babies and tiny animals are so popular on YouTube – they evoke an instantaneous emotional response. According to Jessica Mason at YouTube For Good, images and videos which fosters this kind of emotional reaction are so special because it “they make boundaries, language, cultural barriers, irrelevant.”

It’s often been said that a picture paints a thousand words, but in the context of emotional engagement, it couldn’t be truer. The “It’s Time” video by the Australian charity Get Up solely used images to get its message across, relying on the emotional impact of intuitive storytelling over a more traditional, linear narrative. This approach resulted in the video becoming the most widely viewed non-profit video of the year.

Harnessing this involuntary emotional response has long been a strategy for charitable organisations. Heartstring-tugging ad campaigns have been a television mainstay for years, but the advent of social media and video-sharing has provided non-profits with a wider range of platforms than ever before.

However, Arianna Huffington told Fast Company that an understanding of the medium is crucial: “Social media are a means, not an end. And when it comes to championing causes, social media can be a valuable tool for sharing your values and your causes. But calling it a megaphone isn’t quite right, because that implies one-way communication, when the essence of social media is their potential to start conversations and make connections.” Danielle Brigida, social media manager of the US National Wildlife Federation, advises; “non-profits should spend time on social media to empower supporters to take their message and run with it.”

Hollywood superstar and serial philanthropist Edward Norton has gone one step further. His new initiative, Crowdrise, co-opts the crowd-funding model of sites like Kickstarter and enables anyone to raise money for a cause of their choice. It is notable for the absence of the straight-faced, self-righteous rhetoric which accompanies a number of non-profits; by making the exercise as enjoyable as possible, Norton hopes to encourage more people to get actively involved.

Adopting a similar approach is HopeMob, the community launched by Shaun King in March this year. Rather than representing wider environmental, social or medical issues, HopeMob is all about personal stories: “People are tired of sending their money to charities during disasters and having no idea what that money will do and who it will help,” says King. “We ensure that real people on the ground get the resources and care they need and the donor knows exactly what their charity dollars are doing.”

“By looking at the ever-changing social landscape and tailoring their approach accordingly, sites
like Crowdrise and HopeMob are helping to enhance communication between volunteers and the
people they are supporting, just as Facebook and Twitter have served to bridge the gap between huge
brands and their consumers.”

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