Is Giving Intellectual or Emotional? | For Leaders Only

How Would Your Staff Answer? 

I use to say intellectual, but I changed my mind after writing national direct mail appeals. I quickly learned that intellect and logic alone do not inspire givers nearly as much as logic plus emotion. People make giving decisions with their hearts.

Even Moses' tabernacle givers were those with "stirred hearts."

And everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the Lord's contribution   (Exodus 35:21-22)

I'm not suggesting you bypass people's minds, far from it. But think a minute: you live 24/7 in a world of mission strategy. Your staff discussions about "organic maximization in the 10/40 window" excite you, but would sound goofy to outsiders. If your fundraising appeal is a theological treatise or missiology meandering, you'll put donors to sleep. 

A few years ago I was logically pontificating to a potential donor on the benefits of our youth camping ministry in the mountains. She listened patiently but seemed bored. I was panicking. When I finally invited her to give she said, "You had me when you told about that kid from an abusive home."

How do you bring emotion to your presentations? Get out of your office and search for how broken lives are repaired through your organization, and then plainly describe it. Tell your story the way it actually happens on the street. 

If that doesn't produce emotion, you've got bad fact gathering, mediocre writing, bland storytelling, and maybe all three. As my wizened Journalism 201 professor, Dr. Kunerth, used to say, "There is no such thing as a dull subject, but there are dull writers." And I might add, "dull askers!"

My partner in ministry, Dave Gresham, has learned that major donors primarily want to know two things:

  1. Are people coming to Christ?
  2. Are lives being changed by Christ?

To stir hearts:

  • Like Moses, spend hours on Mt. Sinai figuring out what God is staying to you.
  • Spend hours in the grassroots with your staff and the people who receive your ministry.
  • Test what you say with donors. Learn what piques their interest. 
  • Capsulize your work by developing a few simple stories about real people in the grassroots.

Can appeals be too emotional? Yes. Haven't we grown callous to heart-rendering appeals for needy orphans, needy firemen, and needy homeless people? Some organizations need to tone it down, but others need to pep it up. Help your donors visualize how their gifts touch one life. People give to people.


  • Do you and your staff's fundraising appeals speak primarily to hearts or to intellects?
  • What is it about your mission that stirs emotions?
  • Do your "stories" stretch the truth?
  • Do your staff know how to tell heart stories?
  • How can you pass your vision on to the next generation? Not white papers, but storytelling. What stories do you and your staff tell over and over?

Excerpt from my new book, Blindspots. 

Available NOW!


Blindspots, leading your team & ministry to full funding