# Winning the battle against scope insensitivity, part 2

A reminder for those joining our program already in progress: scope insensitivity means that people are willing to give the same about to solve a program almost no matter how big it is.

Part of this is likely that humans don’t reckon big numbers well.  After all, in our salad days, we needed to figure out how many animals were nearby and how many people were in our group, but we didn’t need to count the stars or, God help us, remember how many zeros are in a petabyte (answer: a lot).

Which leads us to have troubles with numbers like this:

Thanks to xkcd for the illustration.

So how do you make large numbers comprehensible to your target audience?  In a great piece on Gizmodo, mathematician Spencer Greenberg covered some important ways to anything over a thousand into perspective.  His tips include:

Breaking the number down.  When MADD talks about the cost of drunk driving, the amount talked about is usually not the billions of dollars; it’s \$500 for every adult in the United States.  Everyone can picture \$500 or what they could buy with it, whereas we don’t know where to start with a billion dollars.

Actually, we do — with a vintage battleship gray Aston Martin DB5 — but that’s only a start.

Change the unit of measurement. The example he gives in the article is when talking about the deepest point in the ocean, don’t say 36,000 feet; say almost seven miles.  I would argue that for nonprofits, you may want to change the type of unit of measurement.  When doing earthquake relief, 8.4 on the Richter scale may not mean much.  But “I saw a sign that talked about the building being earthquake-proof buried under a pile of rubble” gives someone an idea for the force we are talking about.  Or 8.4 can be “the same force as the largest nuclear weapon ever tested.”

Batching the numbers.  We can’t picture 2.3 million people.  But we can picture the football stadium we saw on TV last night.  So “every NFL stadium filled to capacity at once” gets the message across.

Incorporate time.  In the article, he mentions that during the Battle of Stalingrad, Russians broadcast the message that “every seven seconds, a German soldier dies in Russia.”  That gets the message across (that message being “RUN!!!”) in a way that 388,000 people dying each month does not.

These are some good tips.  I would add another — infographics.  For the modern nonprofit, an infographic can explain in a way that simple numbers can not.  There is a strong article in this month’s Bulletin of the Association for Information Sciences and Technology (get it on any quality newsstand today!) that highlights tips for creating a good infographic.

They include:

• Identify a meaningful comparison for your audience. It has to be something that resonates with your audience, not just you.
• Tell your audience what you want them to do or think. Like all things, we want to begin with the desired action in mind.
• Don’t crowd your message with less important numbers or statistics.

There are some good nonprofit examples in the article, so I recommend a read.  Hopefully, you can now get your millions and billions down to something that people feel like they can do something about.

# Winning the battle against scope insensitivity, part 1

Back in February, we talked about how humans have scope insensitivity; that is, they don’t look at the scope of a problem.  This manifests that we are more likely to give to an individual story than to a global problem; it also means that we are willing to give just as much to help save 2000, 20,000, or 200,000 birds.  Even though the problem is greater, we have the same mental bucket for the amount we are willing to allocate.

What if you could change this with your copy?

It turns out you may be able to.

Hsee et al experimented with a way to combat scope insensitivity called unit asking.  The method is deceptively simple: before asking how much a person would give to support a group of needy people, ask how much the person would be willing to give to support a needy person.

The psychology here is brilliant: by setting a mental anchor for an individual person, suddenly the scope of your program is working for you instead of being a spectator in your ask.

Their first experiment was with a survey: people were asked how much they would donate to help 20 children in need.  Half of the audience had a preceding question:

“Before you decide how much to donate to help these 20 children, please first think about one such child and answer a hypothetical question: How much would you donate to help this one child? Please indicate the amount here: \$____.”

People who got this priming question expressed a willingness to donate more than twice as much as the control group (\$49 versus \$18).

Then, like good researchers, they wanted to see if this would actually have an impact in the real world.  They worked with a company in China that was raising money among its 800 employees to help 40 school children in the Sichuan province, which had just gone through an earthquake.

The company emailed its employees, half with a unit ask, half without.  Average gifts went up 65% among those asked to envision what they would give to support one children first.  Additionally, response rate was unaffected (actually, response rate was slightly higher with the unit ask, but not significantly so).

They then tested the wording in the mail, with even bigger results — those who received the unit ask first had gifts that were four to five times higher than those who received a plea for the 40 children alone.

So, if you have a large number of people affected, ask how people would treat one person first.  Here, we return to the wisdom of Mother Teresa again:

That probably works for numbers that people can picture.  I can picture one child, multiplied by 40, to get 40 kids.  What do you do if you are working with numbers large enough that people can’t picture it?  We’ll talk about that tomorrow.

# The limits of urgency

Back in December, we talked about how scarcity and urgency can help build response and persuade people to give.  But in April, we reviewed a study that indicates that a deadline actually suppressed response rates and that that suppression is only lifted when there is a good reason for a deadline, like the end of a matching gift.

So how does urgency affect an appeal?

Two researchers took a look at this with a large Danish charity.

A large Danish.  But not a large Danish charity.

In email, they had four test groups.  All received the same email with the subject line “Lokwang is grilling rats”.  This isn’t actually the first half of a Cold-War-era spy passphrase (where the other spy is supposed to say “But the oyster wears a fine green wristwatch”); it tells the story of a child named Lokwang who go weeks without food who eat rats in order to survive.

The only difference in the emails were that they had different deadlines:

• Three days out
• 10 days out
• 10 days out + a reminder email
• 34 days out

Similarly, they ran text campaigns with deadlines two days, three days, and 34 days out.  If a donation was made before the deadline, it would be matched.

The deadlines had no significant impact on the propensity to give.  None.  The researchers found a “now or never” effect that you probably have seen with every email you’ve sent — people generally act upon reading it or not at all.  Text messages, even more so.

Additionally, the increase in urgency was linked to an increase in requests to be removed from the email/text list.  I usually don’t look too much at this as a metric, since often the things that are most effective have higher removal rates (after all, if you have double the open rate, for example, the more people are exposed to the “unsubscribe like.  The only email that would have no unsubscribes to a list of size is the one that was never opened.

What did increase giving was the reminder email/text message.  While this also increased the unsubscribe rate, it also increased giving rates by over 50%, a trade off you almost certainly are willing to take.

So perhaps urgency is not as powerful a force for online donations as perhaps I had thought.  While I’m thinking it still definitely has places in end-of-year fundraising, disaster fundraising, and a few other places where urgency is real, this would tend to indicate that manufactured urgency may be unnecessary and, in fact, counterproductive.

# Mars, Venus, and social proof

Here at Direct to Donor, we have a tradition – every 100th post anniversary, we take a look back at some past posts and update them with new information.  “Tradition” may be a bit strong, since we will hit 200 posts this week, but we’re working on it.

Back in February, we took a look at how women and men donate differently.  TL; DR?  Women generally donate more and more often.  Women respond best to social proof, clear injustice, and efficacy appeals; aligned self-interest worked best for men and worst for women.

However, there is a new study that may shed different light on the gender* dynamics of social proof.  In the original study, here’s the phrase researchers used to try to get men and women to donate in the social proof condition:

“When you give to CRP, you join your fellow citizens in helping to fight poverty. The poor are now being helped by record numbers of charitable givers across the country. You can join the movement to eliminate poverty with your contribution to CRP.”

As you can see, this doesn’t mention a specific amount – the social proof comes in the decision to donate, rather than the amount to donate.  The researchers in this case found that women donated more often to this type of appeal.

The reason I go through this set up is that there is also a study out that indicates something different.  This study from Croson, Handy, and Shang looked at a radio station call-in scenario.  Subjects were told, after making a \$25 gift, that someone else had just donated either \$10 or \$50.

Croson and Shang have looked at this type of data in the past (here and here), finding that this type of social pressure/pull can significantly increase the amount given by a person.

Here, they asked subjects how much they think and average station listener would contribute and how much they would contribute in the next year.

It turns out that social norms did influence contributions, but almost entirely from men.  So men were more likely to use this social information to inform the amount they gave.

So, these sound like two opposing studies – one indicating that social norms work better on women; the other indicating they work better on men.

However, I think there is a way to reconcile these results.  It would appear that social norms – how a community is banding together to help fight poverty – are more influential for women than men when it comes to deciding whether to make a donation.  However, when the time comes to actually make the donation, women will keep their own counsel about how much to give more than men, who are more influenced by outside views.

This is an interesting area of research; I hope we can get research that is able to show a clearer direction.  In the meantime, I would keep appealing to men and men alone with enlightened self-interest and use social proofing as a strategy to anchor men to higher gift amounts.

* Technically, it’s sex dynamics, since the study appears to have looked only at a male-female dichotomy, but “Sex Dynamics” sounds like a book you would get on Kindle so no one would see you looking at the cover.

# For donations, speak like a human.

If you are among my fellow nerds and geeks, you likely can recall Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s beverage order of choice from Star Trek: The Next Generation:

Tea. Earl Grey.  Hot.

Captain Picard was talking to a computer; there is no way he would speak to a person thusly.  For a person, you would use a complete sentence and probably add a “please” for good measure.

Picard was adapting himself for the computer, presumably using narrowing categories (tea; of the teas, I’ll have Earl Grey; of the Earl Greys (Earls Grey?), I’ll have it hot).

In the real future, it appears we won’t actually have to do this.  Starting on slide 112 of Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, she talks about how we are moving toward voice interface for computers.  In the long-term, the keyboard on which I’m typing this will seem as antiquated as the typewriter on which it is based.  Specifically, there are several reasons she says this is happening:

Further, she shows that Google has seen voice queries increase by seven times since 2010, with a projection of half of search terms going through voice by 2020.

There are a couple of implications to this.  First, the obvious one — we’re going to have to change our Google Grant Adwords terms and ads.  Right now, someone is adapting themselves to the search engine when they put in “autism services parent.”  When they are able to say “Please tell me how to get help for my son; he’s two years, three months and he isn’t talking yet” and the search engine understands them, we are going to have to understand the statement and deliver the answer in our ad.

But the second lesson is broader and it has to do with the curse of knowledge we talked about way back in October.  When you know something, it’s difficult to communicate with someone who doesn’t.  That’s because you make assumptions about what they know and can’t picture what it is like to function without that knowledge.

Our donors have suffered long enough with us talking about “food security” and “science-based curriculums” and “paradigm shifts” instead of hunger and classes and whatever the heck a paradigm shift actually is.

It’s time to speak plainly. It’s time to call things as we see them. It’s time to come to our donors as they are, not as we might think we wish them to be.

Pretty soon, our computers will understand us as well are.  Hopefully, humans at nonprofits won’t be too far behind.

# Getting other people to do your hypercustomization

Yesterday, we talked about how changing user experiences create expectations in the nonprofit world (aka “If Amazon can X, why can’t you?”).  Today, there’s a great case study of what happens when you let go of control of your message.

In 2004, a blogger who uses the nom de plume “Yarn Harlot” created a fundraising campaign for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) called Tricoteuses sans Frontières (Knitters Without Borders).  She put up a page on her blog talking about the important work that MSF does and urged her followers to join Knitters Without Borders in support.

Whatever you thought they raised, it’s probably too low.

By the sixth anniversary of the campaign, Knitters Without Borders had raised over \$1,000,000 to support MSF.  When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010 and destroyed the hospital in which MSF was working, she put up the Knit Signal (at right, so that you know I’m not making this up) and asked knitters to support the relief efforts.

1. There are more knitters than you knew there were.  I live with a knitter, so I already knew.
2. The Knitters Without Borders logo is a parody of the MSF logo.  Think for a moment if your communications team would allow a knitting blog to parody your logo to raise money for your cause.
3. Here’s a part of the piece about the Haitian earthquake:

“I spoke briefly on the phone this morning with the MSF office here in Toronto, and they confirmed several things.

The MSF Hospital has sustained damage that means it isn’t functioning as a hospital right now. Staff have moved to the courtyard and set up tents and what materials they could retrieve from the building and are doing their best to help people as they can. Doctors who were providing maternity care are now running a trauma centre.

They, and their sister offices in other countries spent all night figuring out who could go and how to get them there, and staff is packing as we read this to get there as fast as they can.  They’ll be taking inflatable surgery suites with them so they can use that instead of their damaged buildings.

They believe that some of their staff are among the casualties.

They recognize the power of Knitters Without Borders and the force that we can marshal in a pinch, and they are grateful that you’ve been able to help them in the past, and they would very much like your help now, and right away.”

First off, tell me that you don’t want to hire Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot, as a copywriter today.  I know I do.  I’ve read a couple of her books and I don’t even knit.

Second, note that she got these details from MSF headquarters.  In the middle of dealing with an earthquake, they talked with a key influencer of a community.  Not later on in the week, not when they got to it between finding out what staff members they lost.  That day.

The lesson here is that people can do some of your fundraising for you, if you’ll let them.  You need to:

• Give them tools and permission (the logo for Knitters Without Borders)
• Recognize their power (“They recognize the power of Knitters Without Borders and the force that we can marshal in a pinch”)
• Keep them in the loop (“I spoke briefly on the phone this morning with the MSF office here in Toronto”).
• Appreciate them (“they are grateful that you’ve been able to help them in the past, and they would very much like your help now, and right away.”)

What a great donor communication.  And not from the organization in question.

MSF has done a great job since then of being transparent about the need, their role, and the role of their donors in Haiti (take a look here

But on their own, how many knitters would they have gotten to donate?

We often talk about how it’s an Amazon world and we are just living in it.  And we bemoan how hard it is to live up to that standard of customer knowledge, immediacy, and customization.

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends presentation indicates that it’s not going to stay this hard.

It’s going to get harder.

On slides 66-69, she talks about hypercustomization of customer experiences:

• Combatant Gentleman (which sounds like a horse that came up lame and lost me the trifecta at Belmont) has a cohort of up and coming real estate employees that they target with real estate specific advertising
• Stance (which makes socks) found that their Star Wars socks were selling well, so they created Star Wars specific Instagram ads and targeted them to Star Wars fans (but, since they were selling a variety of socks, suppressed those people who were fans of one specific Star Wars character).  This had a 36% boost to ad spend.
• Stitch Fix allows customers to put in their own desires and specifications (along with their Pinterest feeds), allowing designers to get to know their tastes and design garments specifically for them.  Then, you keep what you like and return what you don’t.  They report that 39% of their customers now get the majority of their clothes from them, up from 30% a year ago (a good sign of loyalty — could you imagine a nine point jump in the number of your donors who donate the majority of their giving to you?).

We also discussed this earlier this year with the hypercustomization of Ted Cruz’s Iowa campaign — by getting specific messaging to fireworks enthusiasts, they were able to fill a particular niche within persuasible voters.

The non-profit space now as sites like Kiva and DonorsChoose that allow us to sponsor/loan to the particular person we want to, getting a customized experience from that donation, and encouraging us to give again.

We are facing disruption by degrees.  Or to use the parlance from a couple weeks ago, our frog is slowly being boiled.

How do we deliver a similarly customized experience?  One way is to do it yourself.

Yes.  It is a pain to write 50 different petition texts for 50 different states.  But when you can reference exactly what is going on in their state and hose they can help and what they need specifically, you are getting toward that customized experience.

Same as when you customize copy to indicate that you know the person was served by you four years ago.  Or started donating 10 years ago.  Or are donating because their daughter is affected by your cause.  Any little bit helps.

But in reality, it would be best if you can find the central point of differentiation among donors for your organization and customize on that to begin.  It could be cat versus dog.  It could be advocacy versus conservation.  Or those impacted by your disease directly versus those who have less direct connections.

Chances are very good that these people have entirely different desires.  And should have entirely different experiences.

People want to support good causes.  That’s the big thing we have working for us.  They will forgive us not sending a child to their house for a few days to see if they like them and want to sponsor them — we won’t be able to do the full monty for customization.  But we have to try to meet them halfway.

We’ll talk about the other one — getting people to hypercustomize for you — tomorrow with a remarkable story from the knitting world.

# Donor services at the speed of instant

On June 1, Meeker put out her Internet Trends report, highlighting the evolution of the sector.  You can see the full report here.  These online reports have key lessons for us as a sector, one of the big ones having to do with customer/donor services.

One of the challenges we have as an industry is delivering timely donor services in the preferred channel of our donor.  We have all seen the Facebook exchange that goes something like:

Them: how do I stop you from mailing me?

You: Thank you for letting us know that you would like to stop receiving mail from us or reduce the amount of mail you receive.  To do so, please call our free donor help line at 877-DONT-CARE.

There are several problems with this, not the least of which is that your boilerplate sounds like it was written by a robot who desperately wanted to fail the Turing test.  But another one is: if they wanted to call you, they would have called you.

Now you definitely don’t want to feed the trolls excessively.  You generally don’t want to do more than two back-and-forths out on Facebook publicly.  But there has to be a better way to meet donors’ needs without scaring away other potential donors.

Enter slide 104 of Meeker’s presentation.  (I told you it was comprehensive; we read these things so you don’t have to.)  She’s led up to this point talking about the growth of messaging with WhatsApp having 1 billion monthly active users, Facebook Messenger having 800 million, and three other messaging platforms having more monthly active users than there are people in the United States.

So on slide 104, she talks about how Hyatt and Rogers Communications launched Facebook Messenger customer service in November and December respectively.   Within one month, Hyatt had a 20X increase in the number of messages they received.  Rogers Communications’ users report a 65% increase in satisfaction and a 65% decrease in customer complaints.

Now, think about the most common donor interaction people have with your organization.  If you have anything under a 50% retention of new donors rate, and chances are you do, along with everyone else in the sector, that most common interactions is:

1. Someone makes a donation
2. You talk to them some more and ask for donations again
3. You don’t hear from that donor again

What is it worth to you to be able to address any questions, doubts, problems, etc., that these donors are having?

Two comments on customer services that you hear over and over are:

• For every person who complains, there are X more who were as ticked off, but didn’t complain.
• A dissatisfied person who you have the opportunity to satisfy will be a better customer/donor for you than a person you didn’t dissatisfy to begin with.

So instead of hiding your donor service phone number, show it proudly.  If a person is online, see if you can do a live chat with them to address their concern.  And, yes, if they are on social media, actively solicit and take care of donor concerns, as quickly as you can.

The coming battles for donors will be fought over experiences.  What experience can you offer?

There are some people that, like the old EF Hutton commercials, when they talk, you listen. Mary Meeker is one of those people as one of the lead analysts on online and high-tech issues.

To give you some perspective, she was lead manager of the Netscape Communications IPO in 1995; usually when someone says they have over 20 years of online business experience, you assume they are padding their resume.

On June 1, Meeker put out her Internet Trends report, highlighting the evolution of the sector.  You can see the full report here.  Among the over 200 slides are some key takeaways for us nonprofit folks, so I wanted to highlight a few of them this week.

I’m on the record as opposing any article that proclaims The Death of X — that’s even what I called a NonProfit Pro article on the topic.

So here I am violating my own rule.

In the report, on slides 37 and 38, Meeker articulates the five epic economic growth drivers of the past two decades and how they are all waning:

What do these drivers look like for the nonprofit sector?

• Nonprofit giving remains at two percent of GDP.  Has been for 60+ years and looks unlikely to break out anytime soon.
• As Meeker says, overall GDP growth is slowing across the board because of these demographic factors.
• The number of nonprofits is increasing.
• The number of donors is waning, with 103 donors lost for every 100 donors gained.  This is offset by average gifts going up, but getting more and more from fewer and fewer is the buggy whip model for success.
• Anecdotally, nonprofits are increasing their quantity of communications in an attempt to cut through the noise.
• With giving increasing by less than the amount communication quantity is increasing, costs are up and response rates per communication are down.
• Meaning that response rates per donor are down.

We need, as an industry, to find a way out of this.  Other than the nonprofits that are working to decrease death, we can’t solve for the N and increase overall population.  Nor is there anything I think we can do at the nonprofit level to prevent other nonprofits from forming.  And we’re unlikely to budge GDP.

Thus, there are but a few choices:

1. Increase the percentage of people who give.
2. Increase the amount that people who give give.
3. Decrease the costs of getting people give.
4. Die off.

All of these will come into play at some point.  We keep overfishing the same donor waters; we will have to find new donors.  In order to break 2% of GDP, we need to change our value proposition to those who donate to us.  And we need to be smarter about how we solicit and receive gifts.  Those who don’t do at least one of these three things will do the fourth.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about a Meeker-inspired way to help potentially increase both your retention rates and your donors’ experiences (that is, working on #1 and #2).

If you’d like to get these types of tips on a weekly basis, please sign up for my weekly email here.  You’ll get digests of this information, plus additional subscriber-only content like 30 days to firmer thighs.

OK, I’m lying about that last part.

When we think about donors, it’s often with our fundraising glasses on, thinking how do I get this person to donate?

One of the underrated aspects of donorcentricity is starting off with the idea of “how do I solve this person’s problem?”.

That is to say, for people who come to your site with the intent of making a donation, most of them are going to make a donation.  For the majority that come with some other intent, however, what is their mindset and how can you help them achieve it?

Let’s take the person who wants to do something about your issue.  That something is, to them, to email their legislator about a particular piece of legislation you are working on.

A traditional fundraising approach would be to have a button on the advocacy page that encourages them, instead of taking an action alert, to donate to your advocacy campaigns.  This interruption marketing is trying to take them away from what they want to do to what you want them to do.

What I would advocate testing is finding your biggest content engagements and put a logical ask (not necessarily a donation ask) after the person has completed what they came there to do.

This could be:

• On the confirmation page.  If someone downloaded a white paper, it could be “this white paper was made possible by the generous support of people like you” or, perhaps more engagingly, “now that you know about the plight of the Brown Bar-ba-loots, can you email your legislator to add them to the list of protected species?”
• In a lightbox.  We talked about these earlier this week.  In addition to coming up after a page opens, you can also do them as they are about to close.  This type of ask can serve up your best reason or pitch to complete the action they came to the page to do.
• As a follow-up email.  The test here can be what the appropriate action to ask for is.  If you have someone who has taken an action alert, what do they want to do next?  And what is of most value to you?

On a related note, I’ve worked with advocacy campaigns where a donation ask after an advocacy alert performed better than a similar up front ask by email without the action alert.  People wanted to take action, then donate.