That beliefs drive human decision-making has never been evidenced any more dramatically than we currently are witnessing in the United States – and elsewhere around the world – with respect to COVID-19 vaccine uptake. Reading stories about people who would rather be hospitalized (or worse) than receive a vaccine suggests that something different than knowledge and facts are driving the most important decision-making processes for many.
With each succeeding generation, we fool ourselves into believing that we are smarter, more sophisticated, more aware, and have more wisdom than our ancestors. We also fool ourselves by adopting the idea that we are not the emotional decision-makers our more coarse and unpolished predecessors must have been. Instead, we tell ourselves that we are logical and knowledgeable. We tell ourselves that we make decisions based on immutable facts or knowledge that is objectively true.
And, then, a global pandemic occurs. It proceeds to ravage people’s health, killing over 4.2 million worldwide while disrupting economies and all aspects of life as humans know it. With multiple, incredibly effective vaccine solutions having been dispensed over 4 billion times since the beginning of 2021 and being offered free of charge to most (especially those in wealthier nations), literally hundreds of millions of people are making a daily decision to demur or reject them outright.
Perhaps we don’t always make decisions – even the most critical ones – based on knowledge and facts. Perhaps, what we have chosen to believe and how we feel (regardless of knowledge or facts) can matter at least as much.
The pandemic and vaccine uptake issues are only one stark example. To be certain, people make both big and small decisions everyday driven by emotion, based on feelings, and centered on beliefs. To encourage people to respond, it’s simply not enough to share the data, the bar charts, the graphs, the facts, or the knowledge.
We should keep this in mind the next time we craft a direct mail or e-solicitation. Our annual report should reflect this reality. Our stewardship activities should manifest this observation. Our web presence should demonstrate our understanding of this decision-making motivation. In fact, in all the big and small ways we communicate with donors and prospective donors, we should put into action this central truth: People’s beliefs matter when making decisions.
So, as we plan to increase our donor base. As we plan to engage more constituents with our mission. As we strategize on ways to involve more major donors – two questions become critical for us to address:
- What do we really believe about giving and our institution? And,
- What do our donors and prospective donors really believe about giving and our institution?