Why numbers don’t motivate donors to give

We are so often tempted to bowl over people with gigantic numbers. Like 24,000 children die from hunger every day.

It’s one of those shocking facts like these:


  • One billion people live on less than a dollar a day.
  • 39,000 people in our community were diagnosed with cancer this month.
  • One in every eight Americans struggles with hunger.

Really, facts like these are so utterly, jaw-droppingly overwhelming, they numb us.

That’s the problem with them. They’re so big they have no emotional meaning. We can’t picture 24,000 children, much less that many children dying day after day. While we know it’s a tragic reality, we can only grasp it as an abstraction. And abstractions don’t move people to action.

Think about it: If we were moved by numbers, everyone would care about the same problems. We’d all work together to solve the world’s biggest problem. Then we’d start in on the second biggest problem.

As it is, we can’t even agree on what the problems are, because each of us is moved by different issues, motivated by emotional experiences that connect us to those issues. I want wipe out Parkinson’s Disease because I watched it dismantle the body and mind of a loved one. You want to help people get access to safe water because you’ve seen what the unsafe stuff does to them. Everyone gives for personal reasons like that.

You can fight against reality by piling on the numbers, or you can work with it by giving people emotion-sized bits of information that can move them to action.

In my book, the one kind of numerical fact that can do this is the type that causes us to visualize one person. Like this: The average age of a homeless person in America: 9 years old.

(I don’t know the source of this fact, and I haven’t been able to confirm it. So don’t use me as a source!)


Comments

8 responses to “Why numbers don’t motivate donors to give”

  1. Too True. Great post, Jeff. I’m reminded of Joseph Stalin’s words – “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” For the large majority of the time I try to highlight the individual – tell their story – in the hope that the donor connects with that person. Then the donor can see the difference their donation makes.

  2. Too True. Great post, Jeff. I’m reminded of Joseph Stalin’s words – “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” For the large majority of the time I try to highlight the individual – tell their story – in the hope that the donor connects with that person. Then the donor can see the difference their donation makes.

  3. The posts hits the nail on the head. When people see such a shocking statistic, they feel like they can’t help. Learn more about how fundraisers can individualize their message and make people feel like their contributions actually make a difference. http://bit.ly/negcAq

  4. The posts hits the nail on the head. When people see such a shocking statistic, they feel like they can’t help. Learn more about how fundraisers can individualize their message and make people feel like their contributions actually make a difference. http://bit.ly/negcAq

  5. Surely though, if we are able to recognise that we react emotionally to issues that affect us and those we know or can empathise with the most, then we can also acknowledge that, in doing so, we fail to tackle the world’s biggest problems first.
    So, removing the fundraising hat, shouldn’t we actually put emotion to one side, work out the numbers and then start tackling the problems at the top of the list?
    (I realise I won’t be the first to suggest this but is anyone doing it?)

  6. Surely though, if we are able to recognise that we react emotionally to issues that affect us and those we know or can empathise with the most, then we can also acknowledge that, in doing so, we fail to tackle the world’s biggest problems first.
    So, removing the fundraising hat, shouldn’t we actually put emotion to one side, work out the numbers and then start tackling the problems at the top of the list?
    (I realise I won’t be the first to suggest this but is anyone doing it?)

  7. Dear Jeff,
    perhaps this will help you as “proof” for your thougts:
    Look at Paul Slovic and his research here: http://www.decisionresearch.org/people/slovic/
    He built the model of the “Sigularity effect”. Katya Andresen wrote about it here http://www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com/site/science_of_giving_8_the_identifiable_victim_effect_-_and_its_limits/
    I´m from Germany and I really enjoy your comments. Thanks for doing so.
    Alexandra

  8. Dear Jeff,
    perhaps this will help you as “proof” for your thougts:
    Look at Paul Slovic and his research here: http://www.decisionresearch.org/people/slovic/
    He built the model of the “Sigularity effect”. Katya Andresen wrote about it here http://www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com/site/science_of_giving_8_the_identifiable_victim_effect_-_and_its_limits/
    I´m from Germany and I really enjoy your comments. Thanks for doing so.
    Alexandra

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

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.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

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.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

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.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

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.