In 2005 a group of researchers(1) wanted to test what financial actions participants would take depending on the communication given. The first communication gave statistics about food shortages in Africa and the millions in need of immediate food assistance. The second communication was about Rokia, a 7-year-old girl from Mali who was desperately poor and facing starvation.
Those who read the second communication gave twice as much as the group who read the first communication.
Those who read both communications gave only a small percentage more than those who read just the first. The results proved other studies that identifiable victims produce more sympathy and move people more than statistical victims(2).
For humanitarian focused organizations this is critical. Having quantitative data is useful. But, to make people act you need to connect with them and create empathy.
Stories connect us with others even though they are not physically present. Strong stories transport us and give us the opportunity to emotionally resonate with the characters involved.
Strong stories, have three things. First, they engage us quickly and sustain our engagement. Second, they are told from human scale, meaning they focus primarily on one character. Third, the main character is unique, needs to have a strong desire and faces many challenges in achieving that desire.
(1) Small, Loewenstein, & Slovic (2006) Sympathy and callousness: The impact of deliberative thought on donations to identifiable and statistical victims. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 102 (2007)
(2) Small, D. A., & Loewenstein, G. (2003). Helping the victim or helping a victim: Altruism and identifiability. Journal of Risk and Uncer- tainty, 26(1), 5–16.)
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