Our business is fundraising.  We try to get folks to engage in helping behavior, giving and doing.  We are not in the persuasion business. If we were,  we’d be out of business.  As Jack Trout, famous ad man said, “if the job is to persuade people, don’t accept the job.

Our job is to meet people where they are and match our message to who they are, making the “yes” decision easier and more likely.  And because people are different, how we meet and match ought to differ too.

People tend to be the same in macro ways, not micro.  One macro example is our using morality to make the yes/no giving decision.  But, the micro of macro morality is two people may use very different moral lenses to get to the same yes or no answer and certainly to get to different answers.

There is a Big 5 of morality describing the different moral lenses used to make moral decisions.

  • Harm/Care: basic concerns for the suffering of others, includes caring and compassion.
  • Fairness/Reciprocity: concerns for inequality or more abstract notions of justice
  • Ingroup/loyalty: self-sacrifice for the group, feeling obligate to the group, vigilance against betrayal
  • Authority/Respect: social order and appreciation of hierarchical relationships, sense of respect and obedience
  • Purity/Sanctity: concerns about wholesomeness and physical and spiritual contagion.

These five statistically roll up into two larger groupings, #3-#5 and #1 and #2.  The academics have, as is their wont, horrific labels for these two, Binding and Individualizing.

Conservatives tend to form moral judgements based on the Binding aspects of morality.  They are more likely to adhere to social norms of their in-group (defined in lots of different ways – work, church, friends, family) and strive for self-control and duty.  The group serves as the marker for what is moral.  Tight knit communities serve to maintain this order.

Liberals are more focused on caring and fairness and using the individual as the reference point for determining good/bad moral behavior as they seek to protect the individual from harm and mistreatment.

Getting someone to give time or money or take an action is simple but not easy.  At its core, it is about having the fundraising ask match the person’s sense of self.

But what about a person who scores low on all five Moral Lenses?  Who are they?  Sociopaths?  Serial killers in waiting?

There was a French sociologist who, more than a century ago, warned of a rugged individualism emerging in modern societies.  These people believe the individual always comes before society and as it turns out, we can also define and operationalize them by their low scores on the Big 5 Moral Lenses.  They don’t use any of these filters to make a decision as all of these infer a connection to someone else, often a collective.

The More Individualist the Less Likely to Give

This rugged and maybe extreme(? )individualism has almost no correlation with ideology, these folks exist on both the (far) left and right.  And, as it turns out, it’s a very good predictor of the yes/no giving decision.   The more someone thinks like an extreme individualist, the less likely they are to give.  This is a much better predictor than ideology.


Applying the Moral Frame: Example

But how to apply this?  Be very, very purposeful in choosing a moral framing for your ask.  This should be inextricably linked to who you are asking.  Consider a food bank example.

  • A conservative will never buy an equity/fairness message but they would buy into the same ask/problem/need/solution framed around loyalty by making the beneficiary part of the in-group – e.g. we’re all Americans or parents or part of the same community.
  • Marketing equity/fairness to a liberal person on the need to solve for food deserts and help fix it is naturally easier than the conservative, loyalty pitch.  But, this is where testing comes in, there is a path forward in both cases.

But, in both cases I’ve made an active choice and it determines much of my targeting and messaging.  In doing this I indirectly steer away from the extreme individualist who won’t appreciate the loyalty or equity framing.  They’ll tune both out equally.

If you don’t actively consider the moral frame and make it a part of the brief and explicitly show how words or images were chosen to match the moral lens then your communication will be less effective.  Choosing a Moral Lens also means keeping the individualists off the file and the likely churn they create upon exit.