Why fundraising doesn’t work when it should

Puppysmall

Superb article in the Washington Post about the puzzling way the human mind approaches human need: Beyond Comprehension: We know that genocide and famine are greater tragedies than a lost dog. At least, we think we do.


Here’s the key point for fundraisers:



The reason human beings seem to care so little about mass suffering and death is precisely because the suffering is happening on a mass scale. The brain is simply not very good at grasping the implications of mass suffering. Americans would be far more likely to step forward if only a few people were suffering or a single person were in pain.


Journalists sometimes talk about compassion fatigue, the inability of people to respond to suffering when the scale or length of the suffering exceeds some astronomical number. But [the research] suggests that compassion fatigue starts when the number of victims rises from one to two. [emphasis added]

You might well ask, Why did so many people respond to Haiti? Doesn’t that contradict these findings? I don’t think there’s any contradiction at all. A large-scale disaster like Haiti prompts an outpouring of giving because two things happen:



  1. The news media, attracted by the size and scope of the disaster, swarm all over it and blanket all media with stories about the human cost of the disaster.
  2. Video, photos, and stories of suffering individuals become inescapable. This motivates high levels of giving, both from people who are already active donor and from others who seldom or never give.

The rest of the time, you can hardly raise money for disasters. Because without the media telling the stories, a disaster is just a big number. Which is precisely not what motivates giving.


Disaster-response experts say there are about 400 humanitarian disasters worldwide every year. But on average, we have less than one media-promoted disaster per year.


So if you’re working outside those unusual events, it’s up to you to put a human face on the problem. And not get suckered into the numbers game.


Comments

4 responses to “Why fundraising doesn’t work when it should”

  1. I would say also that since folks don’t have to do anything except send money, they are more likely to take part in a huge thing like Haiti. It releases the donors from having to work, but they can still feel like they took part.

  2. I would say also that since folks don’t have to do anything except send money, they are more likely to take part in a huge thing like Haiti. It releases the donors from having to work, but they can still feel like they took part.

  3. I would add that a call to action is essential. Part of the reason telethons work is because people really do “call now” (even if it’s because they want to talk to Jennifer Aniston). Simply reading about a disaster and not seeing it (photos, video, etc), there is less of a sense of urgency.

  4. I would add that a call to action is essential. Part of the reason telethons work is because people really do “call now” (even if it’s because they want to talk to Jennifer Aniston). Simply reading about a disaster and not seeing it (photos, video, etc), there is less of a sense of urgency.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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