A number of studies have identified a biological difference between Republican and Democratic brain structures and how they respond to different stimuli. So how can we leverage these findings to improve your fundraising messaging? Let’s start by looking at the science.  

Since I’m a Republican working for a Republican data and fundraising technology platform, these takeaways are geared toward my side of the aisle. Democrats will have to figure out their own way to leverage these studies, but it’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor.    

Contrary to traditional thinking, it has been proven that ideological responses between Republicans and Democrats are not formed by psychological and social constraints, (i.e. “nurture”) but they are the results of significantly different brain structures (i.e. “nature”). Conservatives’ brains have more gray matter in the amygdala than those of our liberal friends. Liberals, on the other hand, are gray matter heavy in the anterior cingulate cortex.  

The upshot of these brain structure differences is that Republicans and Democrats think and respond to risk, uncertainty and conflict in very different ways.
Republican brains are more sensitive to, and will respond faster to, sudden stimuli such as noises and/or threatening visual images. It appears that the degree to which a Republican brains responds to sudden stimulation directly relates to the degree that the Republican will support policies that protect their existing social structures from change.

Republican brains also have a more structured cognitive style and do not respond in a positive manner to ambiguity, novelty or informational complexity when compared to Democratic brains. Republicans are evaluating the information they receive to quickly identify “facts” so they can determine their risk exposure verses their reward. Democrats are doing their evaluation using the part of their brain that evaluates emotional, social and subjective feelings.

Republicans have a rapid decision making process based on data so they can quickly eliminate risk. They know more (have more data) about policies and actions that have worked in the past, so they tend to want to leverage past experiences to eliminate their risks moving forward.

Republicans do not respond well to novel, untested or overly complex solutions. Being introspective and thinking long and hard about their “feelings” regarding an issue will never be a Republican’s strength.

How can we use this information for fundraising messaging? Most of us have probably learned much of the following recommendations through trial and error, but now we have science to help us more tightly focus our messages. Some dos and don’ts:

DO highlight threatening situations and how your candidate will rapidly respond to those threats.

DO use appeals based on facts and historical precedence.

DO use a message delivery channel that allows your prospective donor to respond quickly. If you maintain a good database, you should know what the best channel is to reach each of your prospects and their preferred response vehicle (mail, online donations, phone, etc.)

DO use clean crisp type-faces and images of strength.

DO leverage tradition and history.

DON’T propose complex or untested solutions.

DON’T attempt to pull heartstrings with soft “Hallmark card” appeals or imagery.

DON’T utilize empathy as a call-to-action for giving.

Now that we know Republican responses are based on physical neurological attributes, the next step is figuring out how can we use this biological information to identify and target new supporters.

Erik currently runs sales and marketing for CMDI, the largest Republican fundraising technology platform. A version of this post was also published on CMDI’s blog.