- Wed, July 25 2012
- Filed under: Fundraising essentials
Soon after the genocide in Rwanda, researcher Paul Slovic asked some research subjects whether they were willing to give money to deliver desperately needed water to a refugee camp in Zaire (now Congo) to save 4,500 lives. Some of the people were told the refugee camp had 11,000 people in it. Others were told it had 100,000 people in it. Either way, the number of lives that could be saved was 4,500. But guess what? People gave less when they thought the camp was bigger.
In another experiment, Slovic asked people to play the role of foundation program officer and to consider grants. They could give $10 million to fight a disease that claimed 20,000 lives a year — and save 10,000 of those lives. Or they could give $10 million to fight a disease that claimed 290,000 lives a year — and this investment would save 20,000 lives. The first scenario won.
What we’re seeing here is the way we as humans gauge impact. We view things in relationship to each other. Contrasts matter more than absolutes and the value of everything is relative. When people
thought the refugee camp was bigger and the number of people dying of disease was greater, their gift looked less effective. We don’t want to fail to save a bigger percentage of people — even if the absolute number of victims saved is bigger!
As any psychologist or behavioral economist worth her salt will tell you, people don’t like to feel they are losing out on something. Fear of loss often weighs heavier than hope of gain. When you’re fundraising, do not ask people to give up something for your cause — focus on what people can gain. Humans don’t act because of how bad things are. We act because of the good we think we can do.