Originally published in the August 7, 2015 AHP Connect
The following article is based on an AHP webinar presented on March 11, 2015, by Leah Eustace, ACFRE, principal at Good Works in Ottawa, Ontario, and Scott Fortnum, MA, ACFRE, executive director of The Living City Foundation in Toronto, Ontario.
As a development professional, you have a good idea about what makes people give. You have gathered this knowledge through practice, learning and experience. But what is the scientific backing behind what you know, and how can it help with your future development efforts?
Stripped down, the thing that makes people give is emotion. We give when our subconscious— the limbic part of our brain—is engaged. We make decisions based on our emotions and intuitions, then use logic to justify these decisions. As our brains age, we become more right- sided— which means we tend to act on our emotions even more. Since the majority of the current donor population is older, it’s all the more reason to focus your development efforts on appealing to emotion instead of logic.
The identifiable victim
One important research finding is that people are more likely to donate to an individual person than to a series of statistics and facts. Eustace quotes Mother Theresa, who said, “If I look at the mass I will never act, if I look at one I will.”
This idea has been backed by science. For example, researchers in one study asked a group of people if they would donate toward a $300,000 piece of medical equipment that would save the lives of eight children; they asked another group if they would donate toward the same amount to save one child instead. People in the second group were twice as likely to donate than those in the first group. People want to donate to an identifiable and singular victim.
The power of storytelling
Storytelling is a fundamental part of being human. We do it every day and it is a part of our nature. It has been shown that people are more likely to believe information given to them in the form of a story rather than statistics. Stories also linger longer in the listener or reader’s mind, which allows the message to be passed along faster and further.
During a study on the effects of storytelling, researchers found that the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted who would donate. Oxytocin is a chemical related to empathy. Based on changes in brain chemistry—how much oxytocin was released—researchers were able to predict who would donate with 80 percent accuracy.