Book Review: Almost everything in the whole world is much better than you think, and that means you can be a more successful fundraiser

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling

Factfullness

Which statement do you agree with most?








If you chose “B,” you would be with the large majority of people worldwide who have taken the test that has this question.

But you’d be wrong.

The correct answer is “A” — the world is getting better. Measurably and provably, the world is getting better. In almost every category that can be measured, the world is dramatically better than it was in the past.

You may have a hard time believing this. It just seems incorrect.

Because each of us has a cognitive bias for drama and pessimism. And this bias is constantly reinforced by the media and by political and religious leaders. Sometimes cynically for their own purposes. But more often because they have the same cognitive bias.

Here’s what this means: In a time when most people agree that we are all speedily on our way to hell in a handbasket, the reality is that there is:

  • Less violence and war
  • Less poverty
  • Longer life expectancy
  • More democracy
  • Fewer deaths by disaster, accidents, and disease
  • More knowledge available to more people
  • More education

In almost every part of the world. (That “almost” is important, and I’ll come back to it shortly!)

There’s a good chance you feel confused or even outraged by what I’m saying. It just doesn’t foot with how most of us perceive the world. But the facts are clear. The world is better than it has ever been in all human history. Look it up. It’s incontestably true.

There are three caveats to this:

  1. It’s not universal. Tell someone in Yemen or South Sudan that things are better than they ever have been, and they’ll think you’ve lost your mind. In fact, around a billion people still live in extreme poverty — poverty so deep and pervasive that it causes unbelievable suffering and will lead to the premature death of most of those billion people.
  2. There are also temporary setbacks. It’s a “two steps forward, one step back” situation. But more like ten steps forward and one back.
  3. There are some scary factors out there — most notably climate change — that could change the general upward course.

What nobody should conclude from this is that it’s okay to be complacent. Things are getting better because people have been working to make them better.

That’s why this matters to fundraisers. And why you should read this book.

What we and our donors have been doing all this time actually works. We’ve been struggling to make the world a better place, and by gum, it’s getting better!

One of the most common reasons non-donors give for not donating is they think there’s no point. They give and give, and things just get worse anyway.

They think that way because of their own cognitive bias, because the media constantly tells them that … and often because our fundraising tells them giving is pointless.

If your fundraising is doing that, you are feeding that terrible false story that the world is getting worse and worse and there’s nothing we can do about it.

It’s your job as a fundraiser to show donors problems they can solve.

It’s just as much your job to show them the problems can be solved and that they get solved.

The accusation most often lobbed at those who tell us the world is getting better is that it might encourage us to stop trying. That would be a mistake indeed. And I think it will have the opposite effect: Imagine if people believed we’re successfully fighting poverty, injustice, and all the other problems we so urgently need to attack … I think more people would join the fight, and fight with more gusto.

A billion people still live in extreme poverty. That’s way too many. Many more are in less-dire poverty, and each of them deserves a better life. There’s war, cruelty, homelessness, disease, suffering. There’s less education and less beauty than there should be.

That’s why we fundraisers are here!

But we’ll raise more funds and solve more problems if we realize the good news about the world we live in. And, frankly, knowing you live in a world that’s improving is a much better state of being than thinking you’re helplessly circling the drain no matter how hard you try.

I urge you to read Factfulness.

A similar, thicker book with some facts and graphs that will blow your mind: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker.


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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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