Prompting a placebo?

Why donors brains are just as innovative as your marketing…

As donor-engagement techniques develop, so do donors. As fundraisers develop innovative new methods, recipient’s brains offer up equally innovative responses.

And the innovative response often comes in the shape of a ‘placebo’.

In drug trials, placebo’s are the ‘control’. They visually resemble the real medication but have absolutely no active ingredient or effect. The person trialling the placebo, has no idea that what they’re being given is inactive.

The human brain also offers placebos. They’re called ‘brain templates’ and are deployed to divert and delay – rather than to directly stop your marketing in its tracks. These responses are designed by the brain to look active, while containing no active ingredient – no active intent.

In drugs trials, no one knows if they’ve been fed a placebo. And, evidence is that placebo recipients will often feel phantom symptoms – even though the substance was inactive.

You may recall being fed a placebo in response to an ask? You may have felt something stir – certain that an active response would follow?

I was recently at a high value donor dinner. One of the team reported, excitedly, that a wealthy prospect had very warmly commended him: “Tonight was outstanding,” she’d said. “And the message about what needs doing deserves immediate and serious consideration.”

The team member responded, suggesting a route for response – and was met with a warm and sincere, “Allow me some time to consider.” The fundraiser came away pumped. Yet the prospect’s response was an obvious placebo: wrapped to look like an active response, but with no active ingredient inside.

But how can you know? What triggers a placebo response? The answer’s simple: look at how you shaped your communication.

The action area of the brain (the Limbic region, or Centre Brain) is prompted by certain triggers. The conclusion brain (Outer Cortex) also answers to triggers – different triggers.

So, like the old acronym GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out), don’t expect an active response if your triggering the conclusion brain.

When you mass mailed, digitally marketed to, or met your audience in person, you will have awoken one of two parts in their brain: the region that prompts action (the Centre Brain) or the area controlling conclusions (the Outer Brain).

You’ll know which you triggered by the response you generated.

A placebo response signals you prompted the Outer Brain. This won’t have come as a direct no. Like any placebo, it initially looks (to the untrained eye) like the real thing. It’s only later you realise the expected action doesn’t follow: “We think this sounds wonderful!” or “Our conclusion is that your charity is doing wonderful work – deserving of support!”

But trigger the action brain and expect to hear more specific, focused responses, pushing into how they can practically support: “We’d like to discuss how our money could specifically help the children in that area” or “How can we best answer this need today?”

So what are these five triggers?

The first will be awoken in you if I invite you to think briefly about your mum; then the room you woke in this morning; then a double decker bus. You didn’t see words (e.g. ‘BUS’). You saw pictures.

Because your Centre Brain’s language is pictures. It recognises and is prompted by pictures (and it even reads words as pictures – which explains why unusual fonts take longer to read: your brain doesn’t have a stored picture).

By pictures I don’t mean only literal stills or illustrations, but pictures created through words. Think of any novel – your brain creates the story pictorially as you read, so that when you see the film it feels ‘wrong’.

If your communication doesn’t pictoralise all your points, you risk not triggering the action brain.

Considering whether your next stage presentation, team meeting, mailing or social post will create a picture to carry the message to the action area of the brain?

There’s insight, examples and application on the five prompts, in “The Centre Brain”

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