Those ducks look darned cute!

27 Oct

I came across this spoof on The Onion radio.

A man is undecided on whether to give his extra sandwich to a homeless and hungry man or to ducks. He admits that the homeless guy looks hungry and probably needs the sandwich. “But aw, the ducks look… so darned cute.” And he gives his sandwich to the ducks.

Sure this is The Onion, but there’s some truth in it that fundraisers could learn from.

We would like to think that people give to our cause only because of a name on the Board, a personal contact or an impressive annual report. Some of us might think that a particularly heart-rending appeal, with a generous helping of exclamation marks, and ‘Yes! I want to stand up for the right to free speech’ and ‘Now’ slogans, would make the donor say, “This organisation really meets an urgent need. I should give. Right now.”

As we know from the gap between exit polls and poll results, people seldom do what they say they do. People say things that make them look good. The truth is probably uncomfortably close to this spoof on The Onion radio.

If this guy had been real, he might have said, “I could see the hungry man was in need, and so I gave my extra sandwich to him.”

The truth is that people are moved to give by a whole bunch of gloriously subjective reasons.

‘The ducks look cute.’

‘I just got a raise and I feel on top of the world; hey, here’s a letter from a charity in my postbox. Sounds great!

‘I love the shade of blue in this appeal – reminds me of a frock I had as a child and that makes me happy.’

No one is likely to admit that such reasons even play a part in their giving. Most of us validate our decisions with motives that sound good (and adult) and say we make donations based on credibility, our personal connect to the cause, a contact you cannot turn down, a moving story and so on.

The human heart has multiple triggers. Let’s remember that when we reach out to the next donor. Sure, be credible, do work that produces impact, use your money well, tell a great story and all that.

But once in a while, give the donor the chance to say, “Aw, those ducks look darned cute.”

PS This blogpost is not supported by any research. For one of the most useful recent research papers on how donors really choose charities, read http://www.cgap.org.uk/uploads/reports/HowDonorsChooseCharities.pdf which I found thanks to Mark Phillips.

Here’s the Onion radio spot.

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