I received a fundraising email from a well-known charity last week, which got me thinking.

It sounded almost corporate in tone and came across as factual and generic. It didn’t make me feel anything, despite it being for a worthy cause.

You may have heard of the ‘Identifiable Victim Effect’ or seen it used by charities in their fundraising. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the principle that we’re far more likely to help and feel empathy for a specific person than a vague group of people.

I’ve applied this successfully through my work with a homeless charity in London.

While it’s a proven method that’s widely used, there are still many charities that aren’t implementing it.

I completely understand why real stories can’t always be shared.

So, how can you put yourself in other people’s shoes to spark emotion in the recipient? Here are three methods I’ve used to create that connection.

Write from a different perspective 

In my experience, writing from one person’s point of view helps to remove the emotional distance. Which of the examples below do you find most powerful?

Scott’s been on the streets for six months now after splitting up with his girlfriend. He’s too ashamed and embarrassed to tell his family. As winter approaches, he’s determined to get off the streets and take his life in a new direction, but he needs you to give him a helping hand to get started.

There’s no way I can tell my mum and dad. I still send them texts when I can and pretend everything’s OK. I barely used to visit them anyway. Somebody poured freezing cold water on me the other day outside their shop. I’m a human eyesore, apparently. It’s still a couple of months away, but I can’t stop thinking about waking up here on Christmas morning.

Share something people can identify with

If you’ve managed to get someone to open your fundraising email or letter, you must ensure it sticks in their mind. One way of doing this is by tapping into a shared emotion.

For example, most people haven’t had the experience of sleeping on the streets, so they might struggle to identify with it. I used to speak to a homeless man regularly on my commute, and he told me one morning I was the only person who’d stopped and chatted to him in the three hours he’d been sitting in the rain. That feeling of being completely ignored is a horrible one we can all relate to, no matter our circumstances at the time.

Experiment with social media

When you’ve got an idea for a broader fundraising campaign, you can use social media platforms as a testing ground. If one of your posts uses the Identifiable Victim Effect, you’ll be able to get a feel for how well (or otherwise) it’s received before developing your bigger idea.

I’m not suggesting you base a huge fundraising effort on how well a single post has performed, but over time, you can test this approach as part of your strategy and monitor the results. For example, I used the theme of isolation and loneliness effectively in various campaigns because I could see the emotional response it was bringing out in people.

I’ll be sharing more articles on fundraising psychology in the coming weeks and months.

If you liked this post, you can connect with me on LinkedIn and learn more about my copywriting services for charities and non-profits