New series: Your Brain on Philanthropy

I’m a fundraiser. I work with people to find the environmental causes that matter to them and then help them make gifts that are meaningful — meaningful to them, and meaningful to my organization. It’s not a profession I ever imagined myself in, but I’m coming to genuinely love it for what it is.

The most unexpected aspect of fundraising has been how intellectual or “scientific” it is. As they say, there is an art and a science to it. One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about is not necessarily the best practices and processes for fundraising (thankfully, I work for a great org that provides lots of resources there) but the psychology and politics of fundraising.

In particular, I read Daniel Kahneman’s great work, Thinking, Fast and Slow and saw so many interesting connections between our cognitive biases and how we give away our money. So me being me, I made a spreadsheet. (Good grief do I know how to have a good time.) I started outlining different cognitive biases, what it means in a fundraising context, and how fundraisers can use that bit of info to help inform their fundraising.

My eventual plan is to turn it into a presentation, both for my internal folks and perhaps for a conference down the road. But in the meantime, I decided to write up little bits here and there and post them here. My biggest hope is that understanding cognitive biases will help us fundraisers connect more authentically and carefully with our donors, and that we all become a little more aware of the biases we have regarding charitable causes and our involvement with them.

Next post I’m going to kick off this series with a brief exploration of the Anchoring Effect, the cognitive bias that when I read about it became my lightbulb moment. I hope you read and enjoy!


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