Just last week, I read this tweet showed up in my newsfeed. Now admittedly, this is pretty old, but it did offer up a Groundhog Day moment for me. I was both transfixed and blown away by this image:

The photo on the left is what people with astigmatism see, and the photo on the right is what those without astigmatism see.

My eye doctor has told me at every check-up that I have mild astigmatism, but I never really probed to truly understand what that meant. I thought my vision was just fine. I thought I visually experienced the world just as everyone else did thanks to my trusty glasses. I’ve never been fond of nighttime driving, and I really try not to drive long distances at night in wet weather, especially on a highway. I find it too visually intense. Because in my eyes at night the world is experienced like an excessively brilliant festive light display.

For me, as silly as it seems, I thought my moment offered up great visual evidence that I see lights quite differently than you do.

What does this have to do with fundraising you may ask? Just sit tight. Especially if you’re a direct mail fundraiser. This is about a difference you can’t see.

Getting Older = More Right-Brained

As we age, our cognitive patterns become less abstract and more concrete. In other words, we become more right-brained. The left brain is mechanistic, wants to use analytic reasoning, and prefers facts in clear, unambiguous terms. While the emotional, intuitive right brain is less interested in details than in the total picture. Simply put, the different hemispheres of your brain see things differently: the left brain sees things in terms of categories, while the right brain sees things in terms of relationships.

Because of this shift in our brain function as we mature, we come to more strongly rely upon emotions to paint visual pictures than we did earlier in life. While emotion and storytelling are key to all amazing and effective fundraising, it’s particularly critical to generating responses from your donors who are 60 years old and older. These folks have become more wired to depend on emotions in forming perceptions, thoughts, and decisions, than those with younger minds are. And these are folks who respond to the mail.

How Aging Changes the Way We Read Mail

As a fundraiser, you’re likely younger than the audience you’re speaking to. Take a moment and think about that. I’m 20-50 years younger than the donors I communicate with. How about you?

This is an important acknowledgment. Because, the way that you read, experience, and feel compelled to act upon the fundraising copy you craft or review is often based on a singular assumption: how you read and experience this copy is the exact same way your donors will.

But there is a cognitive gap between you and your donor. Your donor is more right-brained than you. And this means that you have to craft copy that uses rich stories, sensory images, and metaphors to speak to that right-brained bias. What works for your donors, won’t work for you. That’s something we all need to remember when we’re writing, proofing, and approving copy.

Your brain is not your donor’s brain. And you’re not experiencing a fundraising letter the same way at all. You and your donor, aside from being different people with different life experiences, actually read and mentally process fundraising copy differently.

Just like I see car taillights at night differently than you (if you don’t have astigmatism, that is).