The American Cancer Society (ACS) has invested $ 5 billion in research, but you won’t see that statistic in its new print and TV ads. Thanks in large part to the ACS, the nation has seen a 26% reduction in cancer rates since the early 1990s. Once again, you won’t hear about it in new ads.
While these achievements give the American Cancer Society its credibility, statistics don’t necessarily encourage individual donors to open their wallets during the most critical season of the year for charity donations.
After conducting an extensive quantitative study of potential donors, the ACS reached a surprising conclusion about what motivates people to give money. The lesson they learned will help any organization make a deeper connection with donors, prospects, or customers.
The path to a person’s mind runs through the heart. The American Cancer Society faced the same challenge as many nonprofits: They need to build trust and credibility while touching people’s hearts. Put yourself in the shoes of a nonprofit marketer—if you had thirty seconds in a television ad to get your story across, would you focus on big, impressive statistics? After ACS leaders studied the results of their survey, they realized that big numbers made people less likely to make donations of $ 25, $ 50 or $ 75 dollars. Why? Because a figure like $ 5 billion makes people feel as though their donation doesn’t matter. The truth is individual contributions do matter—they matter a lot.
According to Irma Shrivastava, the American Cancer Society’s senior vice president of strategic marketing and alliances, the organization has strong credibility among potential donors because of its medical research (for example, the ACS funded the first study to identify a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer). But research was “too cerebral,” Irma told me. “Although it brought us a high level of trust, which is important, the message wasn’t connecting with people’s hearts. We needed to create more brand love to encourage people to open their wallets.”
Building Brand Love. Love, by definition, is a heart-felt emotion. Statistics—no matter how big and impressive—aren’t emotional. What is? According to ACS’s research, donors were more influenced by personal stories of real cancer patients. Three ACS programs in particular resonated with people on an emotional level: providing cancer patients with rides to treatments, free housing near hospitals or treatment centers, and a 24/7 live helpline. These programs became the hook of the new print and TV ads you’ll see this holiday season.
For example, one print ad shows a real patient who says, “I thought the stress would kill me before the cancer did.” The caption reads: Cancer comes with many different challenges. That’s why we provide free rides to chemo, a free place to stay near treatment, and a 24/7 helpline for advice and support.” These programs generated ‘warm’ feelings from donors and not ‘clinical’ feelings. Clinical is fine for the right audience such as academics, researchers and healthcare providers, but not if a brand is attempting to solicit donations during the holiday season.
An example of a ‘warm’ television ad you’ll see this season is a cancer patient who looks directly into the camera and says:
I was already picturing my kids without a mom, imagining how hard it would be on my husband just reeling from the diagnosis. I was caught in a dark, mental loop. But one night, I called the American Cancer Society and they explained my options. They got me free rides to chemo. Even helped with insurance advice. By the end, I was done with worst case scenarios and onto a plan of attack.
That’s it. Thirty seconds of a personal story focused primarily on one service like free rides to chemo. There’s no mention of the billions spent on research, the breakthroughs ACS has funded, or how many people are touched by the ACS’s services. There’s no mention of the name of the program: Road to Recovery. Donors don’t connect with titles, statistics or large numbers; they connect with one person’s story.
If you want data, there’s plenty of it on the ACS website. The organization has provided more than 340,000 rides to treatment and other cancer-related appointments. Its provided nearly 452,000 nights of free lodging at its Hope Lodge communities. The ACS runs a 24/7 live chat helpline which has fielded more than 1.34 million calls. These statistics might impress you, but they won’t make an emotional connection with you. Impressive statistics build trust, but stories encourage donors to open their wallets.