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Brain Scans Offer Donor Insight

Ever wondered what’s going through your donor’s mind when they make a donation or a bequest? A couple of U.S. researchers used brain scans to find out.

In a recent post, Michael Rosen announced the findings of a new study in which researchers at Texas Tech University used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to look at what motivates individuals in charitable bequest decision making.

The three key findings from this research that Rosen distills in his post are that:

  • Bequest giving and current giving stimulate different parts of the brain. This suggests that different motivators and de-motivators are at work.
  • Making a charitable bequest decision involves the internal visualization system, specifically those parts of the brain engaged for recalling autobiographical events, including the recent death of a loved one.
  • Charitable bequest decision making engages parts of the brain associated with, what researchers call, “management of death salience.” In other words, and not surprisingly, charitable bequest decision making involves reminders of one’s mortality.

Confirming donor-centred fundraising tactics

This research offers scientific evidence that “the donor’s own story matters most to the donor.” Armed with the knowledge that decision making about bequests is about autobiographical connections, not numbers, such as taxes, or even the needs of the charity,” Rosen suggests that “fundraisers should first focus on the donor’s story, his sense of self, his desired legacy, the things that are important to him. Then, the fundraiser can relate the organization’s mission and needs back to the donor’s story.” 

Leveraging this new-found knowledge 

To successfully leverage the results of this research study, Rosen suggests fundraisers:

  • Focus on the donor’s story.
  • Match the organization’s mission and needs with the donor’s autobiographical sense.
  • Establish artificial deadlines and urgency to overcome a prospect’s natural avoidance tendencies.
  • Suggest giving opportunities that provide some type of lasting memorial to the donor and assure the donor of the organization’s long-term stability

If you’d like to check out the full draft research report, “Charitable Estate Planning as Visualized Autobiography: An fMRI Study of Its Neural Correlates,” written by Russell N. James, III, JD, PhD, CFP and Michael W. O’Boyle, Ph.D., you can download the PDF – here.

Photo credit:  Brain Waves from BIGSTOCK

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Published Friday, 09 March 2012 at 9:35 AM
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