Good article in the Wired Science blog: The More Victims, the Less Severe the Judgment. It’s about a study of jury verdicts that found, “the more victims are involved in a case, the less harshly the perpetrator of the crime is penalized.”
It’s called “identifiable victim bias,” and it explains why someone who murders one or two people tends to be much more harshly punished than someone who causes the deaths of hundreds or thousands.
The study, titled “The Scope-Severity Paradox: Why Doing More Harm Is Judged to Be Less Harmful,” is available here (PDF). A key point:
People empathize with people by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. The more shoes there are, the harder it is to empathize with any single individual. People don’t multiply their feelings of empathy by the number of people involved.
This is important for fundraisers, not just defense attorneys.
We get people to care about something not by emphasizing how huge the problem is — but by making it seem small, graspable, and solvable.
We’re fighting some incredibly huge problems. But we’re always going to have trouble getting people to stand with us with their donations if we just talk about the size of the problem.
So next time you find yourself trying to gin up emotion about the size of the problem you want donors to help you solve, stop. Find an “identifiable victim.” Things will go better.
Good question over at Jonathon Grapsas’ blog: Need v incompetence? Will people think your organization is inept when your message to them is We really need your help?
Jonathan suggests a few ways to avoid the problem:
- Ask when you need the money, stop and feedback in between.
- Find the right times to show off your wares, announcing your successes.
- Do a terrific job explaining why you’re unique and better than everyone else at least one thing.
- Ensure the execution of the ask is clear, concise and explains why you need help, right now.
- Get the balance right between asking (when there’s a need) and non-asking.
That’s all good advice. But let me suggest something else:
Don’t assume anyone thinks less of you because you need help.
That’s an utterly self-centered assumption, and generally the only people who even dream it up are executive directors and board members — people who have personal pride wrapped up in the professional image of the organization.
The more common truth is this: Donors love it when they think they can make a difference, when they think their gift really, really matters. The question of your ineptitude hardly ever comes up. They know conditions are tough (even in the best of times), and they know your organization is doing a lot.
So go ahead and admit you need help!
A popular ongoing series on this blog, Stupid Nonprofit Ads, tends to generate a lot of controversy.
More then one commentator has correctly pointed out that I don’t have response data on these ads, and quite properly asked how I can label them “stupid” when I don’t know whether or not they actually worked. If they worked, then calling them stupid would just be, well, stupid.
Yes, I’m going out on a limb when I call these things stupid.
I could be wrong. It’s happened many times.
But in the case of these Stupid Nonprofit Ads, I’m pretty confident I’m right. These ads are stupid, and their stupidity is of the type that will prevent them raising funds.
I’ve been in the fundraising business a long time. I’ve seen thousands of projects from the inside. And every time — yes, every time — a project has used cleverness and abstraction as its platform, it has failed. I’m not talking slight under-performance, but spectacular and utter failure.
The pattern is unambiguous. Talk to anyone with experience and they’ll agree.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in fundraising. Things that should work sometimes don’t. Oddball projects that just don’t look well-built sometimes work. Often, we can’t find a reason for success or failure. If you’ve been in fundraising for a long time, you learn to be pretty agnostic about what’s good and what’s bad.
But ads like these stupid nonprofit ads are different. They look like they’re going to fail, and they fail. Every time.
There are a lot of ways fundraising can be bad. It can be jargon-laden. It can be self-centered. It can be vague. It can be poorly written or designed. All of these things can cause it to do poorly and waste money. But these things won’t get the “Stupid Nonprofit Ad” label from me.
I’m aiming at a certain class of badness in nonprofit marketing: The abstract, glib, usually agency-created sludge that just never seems to go away because ad agencies are good at selling what they do (even when they aren’t good at what they do), and nonprofits are suckers for “glamour.” They are part of the utterly corrupt ad agency award mill that robs billions of marketing dollars from nonprofits and for-profits alike.
I’m on the warpath against this stuff not because I hate it (I mostly don’t), but because it’s a scourge to fundraising, and it needs to be called out for the scam it is. Maybe we can save organizations from falling victim in the future.
If any of these ads motivated even a mediocre response, I will retract my label of “stupid.” I’ll just have to chalk it up to “fundraising can be strange.” If you have inside knowledge of any campaign I’ve called out and can show me that it isn’t actually stupid, I promise I will retract what I’ve said about it.
And if you have any nominations for the Stupid Nonprofit Ads category, send them my way!