The next next best thing to being there

“You had to be there.”  It’s a cliché because it’s true: there is no real substitute for going and doing a thing.

For nonprofit, this influences our donors’ giving decisions.  People who have seen your mission work are more likely to give and more likely to retain.  Volunteers are generally more likely to also give monetarily.  When you read feedback from international relief organizations, you’ll hear stories from days of yore — trips taken, connections forged, missions embraced.

These come back years later as reasons to give.  The person who says they are giving because they did mission work in the country affected by the natural disaster 50 years ago is expressing a part of themselves.  They could no more give that up than voluntarily give up a limb.

We’re now in a time where going to places is but a distant memory.  People don’t want to cross the world to see your mission at work (and if they did, the rest of the world wouldn’t want them).  Heck, people don’t want to cross town to see your mission at work, by and large.  So how do you bring your mission to them?

The next best thing may be video and virtual reality.  Researchers this year engaged with potential donors to the coral conservation organization Gili Eco Trust.  They showed some nothing, some video, and some a VR experience, all with messaging aimed to close the gap between knowledge and action to help save coral reefs.

You probably will not be shocked to find that video (and VR even more) increased the percent of people who donated:



And the average gift of those giving. 



But let’s say you can’t get people there and you can’t show them video.  In that case, get them to imagine themselves there and use vivid detail.  We’ve talked about this in our A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures post.  Suffice it to say, imagining yourself in a situation and being put there with vivid details can be next next best thing.

Beyond imagery and showing detail, you must also focus on the detail in the right way.  In a study, witnesses were asked how fast two cars were going when they crashed. Except instead of crashed, the authors tended a few different verbs; here are the results:

  • Smashed: 40.5 MPH
  • Collided: 39.3 MPH
  • Bumped: 38.1 MPH
  • Hit: 34.0 MPH
  • Contacted: 31.8 MPH

Let me stress this: they watched the same crash. All that was different was the word that the question used and you still see an impact of almost 30%.  Strong word choice is its own form of virtual reality.

Studies of the brain find that when we read a story written this way – asked to imagine, getting imagery, and focusing on details – our brain processes it as if it is a visual and motor experience. As a result, we remember it better.  We are more convinced by it.  And we donate more.

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