Is 1 Child Actually More Motivating Than 1 Million?
Folks, I want you to put your creative and messaging hat on because that's where this week's blog is taking us. Shankar Vedantam is a science desk correspondent for NPR, and last month he wrote a great piece titled "Why Your Brain Wants to Help One Child in Need — but Not Millions."
Vedantam was writing about a study that psychologist Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon conducted. The net of the study (and the article, but I really suggest you read it) is this:
- Two groups of consumers were in the study.
- One group was told a story about a little girl who was battling starvation.
- One group was told the same story but also was given information about the vast problem of starvation and that millions of children around the globe are struggling.
What happened? The group that received the broader information donated less — significantly less.
Why? The study originally thought that it was a heart versus head issue — i.e., the statistics created a non-emotional reaction. But, this didn't really make sense since the group that was also given the statistics actually seemed to be demotivated.
In the end, the conclusion from the study and the two groups is the sense of being able to make a difference and feeling good.
This sums it up: The volunteers in his study wanted to help the little girl because it would make them feel good and give them a warm glow. But when you mix in the statistics, volunteers might think that there are so many millions starving, "nothing I can do will make a big difference." Now, if the human brain was a computer, the two conflicting feels wouldn't cancel each other out. We would still help the little girl even if we couldn't help everyone. But the brain is a master at unconsciously integrating different feelings. So the bad feeling diminishes the warm glow — and reduces the impulse to give generously to help the child. In other words, people decline to do what they can do because they feel bad about what they can't do.
Now, let's talk about how we deal with this.
- There are certain types of donors who absolutely require statistics. The younger generations absolutely need to see proof, progress and data.
- You must strike the right balance between providing the emotional connection while also feeding the other side of the brain with the right amount of information about the cause.
- Your message needs to help the donor understand that while the challenge might be large, individual donations will make a difference. But, you must help her understand how that difference will be made. She must truly understand that not only is her financial support needed, it is truly necessary.
Overall, you must ensure that you are very clear that there is hope. Slovic states that this is extremely hard for nonprofits because of the need to "state the facts." I believe there is an opportunity to tell both the facts and actually create the emotional connection that is needed to motivate. But, it must be personal. It must be a direct appeal to that individual donor, and Slovic says it well: "the way to combat this hopelessness is to give people a sense that their intervention can, in fact, make a difference."
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.