What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?
I left the AP office in downtown Caracas, and I jumped on a motorbike taxi – the only way to move in Caracas as a journalist – to try to find some daily life pictures for the wire, basically trying to describe the mood of the people days before the presidential elections. Only two blocks from the office I suddenly saw this incredible situation, so I jumped off the motorbike to document the scene. It was surreal, this guy, almost covered by water, trying to fix a public tube. I spent almost 20 minutes there until the man finished his work.
What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?
This week’s image comes from the Lens Blog. This photograph was taken on March 26, 2013 by Cathal Mcnaughton. The caption reads: A farmer in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, searched for his sheep after a heavy snowfall over the weekend. Reuters reported that “At least 140,000 homes and businesses in Northern Ireland were left without power over the weekend following heavy snowfall, causing snowdrifts of up to 5 metres (18 feet).” The March snow has devastated many farmers in Northern Ireland. You can watch a video about the snowfall and its effects on farmers, or view a slide show of the farmer featured in this week’s image, Donald O’Reilly, rescuing two lambs whose mother died in the winter storm.
And science backs this up…
Let’s start with how we make decisions. If you ask the average person on the street to describe how they make a decision, they’d describe it something like this (read it through) It’s a very logical process
In actual fact, decision making isn’t logical at all Research has shown that our subconscious makes a decision a full seven seconds before we are consciously aware that we’ve made a decision And, as I’ll talk about in a minute, we’re completely incapable of making decisions if our emotions aren’t engaged
Some of you may have read Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow This graphic is a summary of it, but let me walk you through what he has to say He uses the labels system 1 and system 2 thinking System 1 “is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach, System 2 “the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.” “System 1 is...more influential…guiding…[and]...steers System 2 to a very large extent.” An example of System 1 would be our automatic reaction to a speeding taxi as we step off the curb or to the subtle facial cues of an angry boss. That automatic mode of thinking, not under voluntary control, contrasts with and example of system 2, the need to slow down and deliberately fiddle with pencil and paper when working through an algebra problem.
Here’s a quick and easy summary of system 1 versus system 2 According to Kahneman, and I agree, we should make our causes inspire the system one thinking. The best way to do this is through effective storytelling
Back to how our brains make decisions how can we be so sure that our intuition and emotions are calling the shots when we make a decision? An interesting finding comes from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who studied people who had received brain injuries, in which only the part where emotions are generated was impaired It all started 30 years ago, when Dr. Damasio was visited by a patient named Elliot Elliott had gone through a surgery where part of his brain in the frontal cortex had to be removed because of a small tumour he’d developed Elliot was a successful businessman and had been a model father, husband and citizen After the surgery, something strange started to happen He started taking hours for a simple decisions a normal human being would make in seconds For example, even a decision to shave or not in the morning would take hours as he started analyzing the pros and cons of shaving and the effect it would have on his life This behavior eventually lead his business into bankruptcy and his wife ended up divorcing him Dr. Demasio was able to determine that during the surgery, one important neural connection which connected Elliot’s conscious mind with the part of his brain that controled the emotional faculty (the amigdala) was severed He was left only with his conscious mind to make decisions So, for every decision, his brain went into overdrive… he didn’t have the luxury of consulting his emotional brain to make the intuitive decision In other words, it’s ultimately our emotional brain that makes decisions.. Including decisions to give
Dr. Demasio has also done a Ted talk on this topic I highly recommend you check it out
We give with our hearts That’s why it’s so important in fundraising to make an emotional connection with our donors, and why storytelling is key to good fundraising An interesting study was done aimed at mapping bodily sensations in connection with specific emotions. Participants viewed emotion-laden words, videos, facial expressions and stories. They then self-reported areas of their bodies that felt different than before they'd viewed the material. By coloring in two computer-generated silhouettes — one to note areas of increased bodily sensation and the second to mark areas of decreased sensation — participants were able to provide researchers with a broad base of data showing both positive and negative bodily responses to different emotions. What this study, and others, tell us is that we feel stories physically Inspiring these emotions through our words will lead to more revenue
Empathy can tap into all sorts of our emotions The most successful stories make the reader feel empathy, so let's talk a little bit about what we know about empathy. According to Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard, the biggest empathy generator is cuteness: features such as large eyes, a large head, and a small lower face. So, yep, photos of babies will increase empathy. This is pretty great news if you're a children's hospital. Other research suggests that wealthier people aren't as empathetic as less wealthy people: there are things we can do to increase empathy: we can tell uplifting stories about sacrifice; stories of despair and hope; we can bring people in to our facilities to get close to our beneficiaries, we can remind donors of their good fortune.
Peter Singer Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University shares a puzzle with his students Imagine that on your walk to university each morning you pass a pond One morning you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To jump in and help the child would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class. do you have any obligation to rescue the child? Unanimously, the students say they do. The importance of saving a child outweighs the cost of getting your clothes wet and missing a class Does it make a difference, Singer then asks, that there are other people walking past the pond who would equally be able to rescue the child but are not doing so? No, the students reply, the fact that others are not doing what they ought to do is no reason why I should not do what I ought to do. He then asks: would it make any difference if the child were far away, in another country, but similarly in danger of death, and equally within your means to save, at no great cost – and absolutely no danger – to yourself? Virtually all agree that distance and nationality make no moral difference to the situation. Singer then points out to his students that we are all in that situation of the person passing the shallow pond: we can all save lives of people, both children and adults, who would otherwise die, and we can do so at a very small cost to us: by making a donation to aid agencies like Oxfam, we overcome the problem of acting at a distance. At this point the students raise various practical difficulties: will our donation will really get to the people who need it? What about corruption?
So what’s the deal? What’s happening? When The child is dying right in front of you, the shame you'd feel in walking away is enormous. And, once we pull someone out of the pond, we anticipate that they will thank us, and so will the community. Our subconscious likes that.
This is the problem that all of us face as fundraisers: we're trying to solve a problem that's far away (and by far away I mean anything outside of our donor's eyesight on a particular day). Fortunately, there there are things we can do to increase empathy: we can tell uplifting stories about sacrifice; stories of despair and hope; we can bring people in to our facilities to get close to our beneficiaries, we can remind donors of their good fortune.
Remember Karen Klein? Back in June of last year, a film of Karen, a bus monitor in Upstate New York hit the internet..
In the video, the 7th grade boys are heard bullying her about her appearance, her age, and even comment about "the water on her face", at first saying it was sweat. Once she explains she is crying, they reply that the reason is that she misses her box of Twinkies. They then proceed with remarks about Twinkies, call her a "fat-ass" constantly, touch her, and demand that she provide her address on camera. They also threatened to egg her house, urinate on her door, and stab her.
One boy refers to Klein's family, saying, "They all killed themselves, because they didn't want to be near you.“
In reality, Klein’s oldest son had committed suicide ten years earlier.
The video presents a powerful, powerful story
Soon after the video started to spread on Youtube, Max Sidorov, an author living in Toronto who says he had been a victim of bullying as a child, started a campaign at fundraising site Indiegogo with a goal of $5,000, to help give Klein a vacation. Within a few days of its creation, the fund had surpassed half a million dollars, and, last September, Sidorov presented Klein with a cheque for over $700,000.
With the money she received, Karen Klein established the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation. If you go to its homepage, there’s a quote from her right up front: Your single act of kindness changed my life. Now we still stop bullying in America.”
Powerful stuff, but why did it happen. This is one person of billions in the world. To help find the answer, let’s look at another scenario.
The Syrian Civil War, also known as the Syrian Uprising, is an ongoing armed conflict taking place in Syria. The unrest began in the early spring of 2011 within the context of Arab Spring protests, with nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad's government, whose forces responded with violent crackdowns. The conflict gradually morphed from popular protests to an armed rebellion after months of military sieges.
As of April 2014 the death toll had risen above 190,000. International organizations have accused the Syrian government, ISIL and other opposition forces of severe human rights violations, with many massacres occurring
Chemical weapons have been used many times during the conflict as well. The Syrian government is reportedly responsible for the majority of civilian casualties, often through bombings
In addition, tens of thousands of protesters and activists have been imprisoned and there are reports of torture in state prisons
The severity of the humanitarian disaster in Syria has been outlined by the UN and many international organizations. More than 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced, more than 3 million Syrians have fled the country and become refugees, and millions more have been left in poor living conditions with shortages of food and drinking water.
Yet, it’s barely mentioned in the news. Charities who work in the area of international development, have trouble raising money to help the people of Syria. Why is this?
Mother Theresa pretty much nails it in this quote: If I think of the mass I will never act, if I think of the one, I will.
Paul Slovic, a researcher at the University of Oregon, has done a lot of work in this area after noticing this pattern of giving: we rush to help people like Karen Klein, a child left orphaned by a car accident, a puppy found broken and abandoned on the side of the road. Yet it’s a constant struggle to raise money for crises like Darfur, HIV/AIDS or malnutrition in Africa.
Slovic conducted an experiment:
Ordinary citizens were asked to contribute $5 to alleviate hunger abroad In one version, the money would go to a particular girl, Rokia, a 7-year-old in Mali In another, to 21 million hungry Africans In a third to Rokia, but she was presented as a victim of a larger tapestry of global hunger
People were less likely to give to anonymous millions like Rokia. But they were also less willing to give in the third scenario, in which Rokia’s suffering was presented as part of a broader pattern
In another experiment, people in one group could donate to a $300,000 fund for medical treatments that would save the life of one child – or, in another group, the lives of 8 children. People donated more than twice as much money to help save one child as to help save 8.
And there’s more…
Today neuroscientists like Gerald Zaltman are proving that giving is not a rational choice 95 per cent of human thought and emotion happens without our conscious awareness.
Here’s more proof? Paul Slovic ran another test offering people the following choice: Give $10 million to fight a disease claiming 20,000 lives and save 10,000. Give $10 million to fight a disease claiming 290,000 lives and save 20,000. The first option won!
So, it’s clear: People give when they’re emotions are engaged
Decisions are activated by unconscious part of our brain (called the limbic system) .
The rational part, which governs our logical thoughts and the language, only comes into play afterwards to justify our decision.
As we saw with the body map a few slides back, we can feel emotions and physical reactions simply by reading a story (“The Storytelling Animal” by Jonathan Gottschall) Brains on fiction “catch” the emotions enacted on the page or screen. When we watch Clint Eastwood get mad on film, our brains look angry too; when the scene is sad, our brains also look sad. Research shows that whether we are watching a passionate kiss on television, or receiving a passionate kiss ourselves, our brains react the same way… we live the story Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, Gottschall tells us what it means to be a storytelling animal. Did you know that the more absorbed you are in a story, the more it changes your behavior? That all children act out the same kinds of stories, whether they grow up in a slum or a suburb? That people who read more fiction are more empathetic? We all have a set of left hemisphere brain circuits that force story structure onto the chaos of our lives. When these circuits run amok we get schizophrenia, wild conspiracy theories and, sometimes, immortal works of poetry and fiction.
Almost right from birth, we feel the story of a face. We become that story Those of you who have or are around small children will have noticed how much they absorb your emotions If you’re sad, they’re sad If you’re happy, they’re happy They see the story on your face and they feel that story deeply
But that’s not all. As people age, their cognitive patterns become less abstract and more concrete … in other words, they become more right brained
This results in a sharpened sense of reality, and an increased capacity for emotion
They become better at feeling empathy and sympathy for others, taking the viewpoint of the one who speaks, seeing personal experiences and first-person stories as important way of learning, and embracing an ethic of caring
And, hey, our donors tend to be older, and they’re getting older every day.
I’ve focused in on a few key brain facts, but I’d also like to tease you with a quick taste of some more Let’s focus a bit on our brain on stories from a planned giving point of view If you haven’t heard of Dr. Russell James, then I encourage you to pull up google and search him out right now. Dr. James is, in my opinion, doing the most important research around planned giving. He’s been studying bequest donors for twenty years and one of the things he’s discovered is that different parts of the brain engage depending on whether someone is thinking about a financial gift or volunteering compared to thinking about making a charitable bequest. The part of our brain that is activated when we’re thinking about a bequest is the autobiographical part: the brain regions related to taking an outside perspective of one’s self, recalling the recent death of a loved one, and recalling vivid autobiographical memories across one’s life. What does this have to do with fundraising? Well, if we’re in planned giving, we’d do well to emphasize donors’ autobiographical connections with our charity. Take them on a walk down memory lane.
A key thing we're talking about today is the fact that our unconscious thoughts are pretty powerful in terms of guiding our behaviour. No matter how logical we are, our brains are still pretty prone to making bizarre assumptions or jumping to illogical conclusions. As much as don't want to be, we're full of psychological bias.
So let's talk about a few of those: 1) The 'Ambiguity' Effect: people to avoid options about which they lack information. How does this apply to storytelling? Make sure donors are informed about what results they can expect if they make a gift, and quickly answer questions or fill in knowledge gaps they might have. 2) The 'Anchoring' Effect 3) Hyperbolic Discounting: we’re biased toward rewards in the short-term . So, in your stories, emphasize the quick wins a donor can expect to see when they give: new mattresses for the beds in such and such a unit, for example. 6) The 'Rhyme-As-Reason' Effect: people to perceive rhyming statements as more truthful than non-rhyming ones containing the exact same message. 8) The 'Illusory Truth' Effect the more times a person hears a statement, the truer it seems to become. Fundraising takeaway: Determine your core message, and then deliver it over, and over, and over again.
Back to emotion, not logic Telling a donor how to do something will automatically engage their logical side The purpose of our writing and speaking is to engage their emotions, to make them feel…logic comes into play later Here’s an example: Focus groups have shown us that Donors already know how to leave a bequest. They feel the charity is being kind of preachy if they tell them how to do it Put your hand up if the planned giving information on your website focusses on how to leave a bequest. stop talking about how to leave a planned gift and start talking about why your donors should leave one to you. Focus on inspiring the donor. How do you inspire them? Tell them about the future you believe in. Tell them about your hopes and dreams. Show them what you’ve been able to accomplish, and the amazing things you’ll be able to do in the next 25 or 50 years.
Which appeal would you respond to….
Dozens of scientists and psychologists confirm Humans rely on stories to: Understand our world Make sense of our lives Plan our futures Stories are remembered and shared Stories better hold our attention Stories bring our causes to life Stories lead to powerful fundraising
In 1924 two scientists went for a walk and came across Kronberg Castle This is what one said to the other: “Isn’t it strange how this castle changes as soon as you imagine that Hamlet lived here? As scientists, we believe that a castle consists only of stones, and admire the way the architect put them together The stone, the green roof with its patina, the wood carvings in the church, constitute the whole castle None of this should be changed by the fact that Hamlet lived here, and yet it is changed completely Suddenly the walls and ramparts speak a different language The courtyard becomes an entire world, a dark corner reminds us of the darkness of the human soul
Same stones, same mortar. My friends, imagine your cause is Kronberg Castle. Create your Hamlet.
In Defence of Stories
In Defence of Stories
Leah Eustace, MPhil, CFRE, ACFRE
Chief Idea Goddess
Empathy is the ability
to see the world as another
person, to share and
person’s feelings, needs,
concerns and/or emotional