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.

For donations, speak like a human.

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