It’s Time to Take the Guesswork Out of Fundraising

Sep. 20, 2018 | Sarah Haertl, VP Marketing and Communications

One of the most exciting advances in marketing in the past 20 years is now available to nonprofit fundraisers.

Neuromarketing | Defined as the study of how people's brains react to advertising. Neuromarketing is a relatively new type of market research using processes such as neuroimaging and eye tracking to analyze the way a consumer’s brain responds to particular products, advertisements and brands. [Oxford Dictionary]

Intrigued? So were we. Especially when we discovered a company that has pioneered the use of neuromarketing in the fundraising industry by creating the Moore DM Group Neuro-Fundraising Lab. The lab’s Neuro-Fundraising processes analyze human biometric responses to fundraising stimuli in order to understand, measure, and increase the effectiveness of each stimuli within a targeted donor base.

We wanted to learn how our nonprofit clients can benefit from testing campaigns using Neuro-Fundraising approaches, so we reached out to Research Director, Rosemary Avance, Ph.D., to explain the benefits of testing a campaign before its launch.


Neuro-Fundraising sounds very scientific. How does it relate to nonprofit marketing and campaigns? 

Neuro-Fundraising is all about using scientific methods to raise more money. It gets its name from Neuro-Marketing, an approach used in the commercial world to measure human physiological response to ads in order to optimize them and make more sales. Our lab is the first of its kind to take the science of Neuro-Marketing and apply it exclusively to the nonprofit world, so the term Neuro-Fundraising is our own moniker. 

How is the Neuro-Fundraising Lab changing the way nonprofits develop campaigns?

Most nonprofits have always relied on focus groups or dial testing to determine if their campaigns are hitting the right chords with donors. In both cases, that means asking potential donors how they feel about a DRTV ad, direct mail package, or other campaign material.

The problem is, any type of self-report is unreliable. In a focus group, for instance, it just takes one strong personality in the room to sway everyone else. Dial testing is just as precarious, because while people might indicate they are having a response to something, they might just be saying that to please the researcher or because they think they should be having a response. They could even be unaware of the type of response they’re having. 

The Lab goes beyond self-report and gets to respondents’ subconscious reactions – what is their body telling us about whether they’re having an emotional connection with a campaign, and are we hitting the right emotional notes at the right time to increase their chances of donating? They can’t manipulate their heart rate and rhythm, subconscious eye gaze patterns, or skin sweat response. Even if they verbally tell us what they like and don’t like, we can see if the data from their own bodies supports their answers. Nonprofits can use this information to craft messages that really resonate with their donor base in a way that was not possible before.

Is this something every nonprofit should be utilizing for their campaigns, or is the Lab only applicable for large nonprofits?

Any nonprofit could benefit from biometric testing in the Neuro-Fundraising Lab. We have helped many smaller groups optimize their brand and message to make sure they are hitting the right target.

What mediums can be tested by the Lab?

The Lab tests most campaign materials including long- and short-form DRTV; direct mail assets including carriers, gifts, and full packages; and digital assets like webpages, emails, and donation forms. We also do brand awareness and messaging (testing assets like brand logos and spokesperson resonance), as well as conference sessions, galas, and other in-person fundraising events.

Have there been any results that have surprised your team? 

We work with fundraising and marketing experts all across the industry, but there have been many studies where all of the experts were surprised by the data we found. The biggest takeaway is often that results really depend on the organization, message, target audience and materials, so what works for some groups won’t work as well for others. For instance, in one DRTV test, we found that a token gift that respondents thought was worth receiving was more important in predicting the spot’s in-market test than having a likeable spokesperson. But in other studies, we’ve found that a mismatch between a spokesperson and the brand’s image among potential donors can cause the brand to lose trust. 

From start to finish, what’s the duration of time a client should budget to run a campaign through the Neuro-Fundraising Lab?

Most studies take three or four weeks from start to finish. That includes the time to plan the study, schedule participants, run study sessions with 30-40 participants, analyze the results, and create reports. 

To learn more about the Neuro-Fundraising Lab, contact Rosemary Avance, PhD, at 918-600-1919 or

Sarah Haertl is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the three Aegis companies: Aegis Premier Solutions, Aegis Processing Solutions and Aegis Premier Technologies. She has a proven track record of success in marketing, communications and public relations and has served on the boards of numerous nonprofits. To contact Sarah, email her at

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