How to raise a lot more money by thinking small

You probably remember the photo of the body of a little Syrian boy, washed up on a Turkish beach in September 2015. It’s a hard photo to look at; he looks like he’s sleeping, in that sprawling, completely relaxed way that toddlers sleep. But he’s not asleep.

This photo galvanized (sort of) humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The fact that it’s an astoundingly huge crisis didn’t move people. It took a photo of one child — for whom help was too late.

And it’s always that way. The facts that prove a crisis is a problem that urgently needs response never stir response. The picture one does.

Because that’s how our brains work.

A recent column in the New York Times, To Make the World Better, Think Small (disclosure: the author is my brother), makes this same, but talking to would be donors:

Think small. In the fund-raising business, there’s an old axiom that “one is greater than one million.” This isn’t bad math; it is a reminder that when it comes to people in need, one million is a statistic, while one is a human story.

Every charity worth its salt knows that people are more likely to give in response to a child who has lost her parents than to the news of thousands of victims of a tragedy.

Except too many charities aren’t worth their salt. They don’t help donors “think small” by presenting solvable, human-sized problems. Instead, they keep uselessly battering donors with the massive size and seeming intractability of the problems we face. And many organizations directly involved with the Syria refugee crisis refused to show the iconic think-small photo.

And so even more people died and went un-helped. And too many would-be donors stayed stuck in the sad illusion that they can’t do anything to make the world a better place — because charities refuse to think small.

If you want to raise funds, you have to enter the psychological world of your donors. You have to think small — which is the ultimate form of thinking big!


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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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