Fundraising is all about being human.
Tremendous events are happening every day, all around us. But living in a time like this offers us the chance to learn.
And as I try to absorb the daily news – new, impossibly high Covid counts, new, impossibly awful political news – I realize that a learning opportunity is presenting itself to us all daily.
You have probably heard of the identifiable victim effect. Here’s one definition for us to work with:
The identifiable victim effect describes the likelihood that we feel greater empathy, and an urge to help, in situations where tragedies are about a specific, identifiable individual, compared to situations where the victims are a larger, vaguer group of people.
It’s an example of how – while we really want to believe we’re rational creatures – we are not. We’re wired for emotion.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t be perfectly logical and rational. We can and some of us are very good at it. But nature has her way, and even the most rational of us still has emotional, gut, reactions first.
Reacting with emotion is human
So it is with the identifiable victim effect. Take a look at these recent headlines:
Big, scary, numbers. A virus that is attacking humans across the globe. No good medical answer yet. And logically, we look at those numbers, see them climb, and understand “this is bad.”
Now take a moment to play this video (start at 1:26 and go to 2:29):
The big numbers may have frightened you, intellectually. But I bet you found yourself more moved by this one brave nurse. Joey Traywick knows the big numbers, but he cares about his individual patients.
Why it’s good that we react this way
As fundraisers, we need to be well-acquainted with the identifiable victim effect. Because ignoring it leads to ineffective fundraising.
Ignoring how we’re wired leads to appeals full of big numbers. “Look at the size of this problem!” It screams.
And we look. We nod. And we think, “Oh, that’s not good. But what could I do?”
The headlines get our attention. But the scale is too big to move us to action.
Now consider Joey Traywick being very human
After seeing him cry, after feeling his heartbreak and frustration and fear, are you not more willing to at least wear your mask? If that one person, being so vulnerable, had asked for your help, would you find it easy to refuse?
Don’t let the statistics get in the way of the human story
If you want people to be moved, don’t let the statistics get in your way. Asking for help is a very human, very personal thing. It makes the person asking vulnerable. And it asks the reader to be vulnerable, too. To feel someone else’s pain.
Then it offers a human-sized solution.
The daily Covid death counts crush us with their enormity. It’s overwhelming. Too much to really take it. And while we understand, rationally, that every number is a person – a person with his or her own story – we just can’t grasp it all.
But we can understand each other’s pain and fear.
And thank goodness for that.