increase donations in one step

Want to know the biggest secret to help your charity increase its contribution level?

Are you a non-profit with a “for purpose” vision for your cause, but find it really hard to tell your story or give your organization a voice? Well, this is the article (and video) for you!

Are you ready for the secret?

The one step (biggest secret) to get more donors to give to your cause is to find your “Identifiable Victim”, (IV). You are probably wondering, “What is an identifiable victim?”. (Since many of us don’t like to think of the people we serve as victims, we’ll refer to the term using its initials, “IV”). 

Research, conducted by Deborah Small, a Wharton marketing professor, and two of her colleagues, proves that when you use an “IV” to voice about your charity, people will be prone to connect emotionally more with your organization. The IV is an individual or subject matter with a name that represents the reason your organization is active. I’ll give you several examples.

Remember “Baby Jessica” in 1987, the little girl, who fell into a well near her home in Texas? How about Ali Abbas, the little boy, who lost both arms and his parents during the War in Iraq in 2003? What about Forgea, the furry pup, that got stranded on a ship adrift in the Pacific Ocean? These are all examples of “IVs”.

Why are these IV’s? Because they captivated the hearts of many people to give financially to their cause. Baby Jessica received nearly $700,000 in donations from the public. In Europe, Ali was funded $550,000, and Forgea, $48,000.

Why is it that people want to give so much more money to one person?

The reason is because people want to make a huge impact. Intuitively speaking, when you present someone the opportunity to change the life of one individual, they feel like they can make that happen. This is based on “spontaneous affective reaction.” They begin to feel hopeful, that if their contribution, no matter the size, goes to baby Jessica or Ali, or even Forgea, it will make a significant amount of difference.

In the research, Deborah Small added, “People pay greater attention and have stronger emotional reactions to vivid rather than pallid information.”

Sadly, the minute another baby is found in the well with Jessica, the amount of donations begin to decrease. This is the result of the “proportion of the reference group effect.” What this means is that the mind responds to proportions, not absolute values. In the case of Baby Jessica, she represents 100% of 100% of the children that fell into that well. That proportion is huge, and psychologically, people are more likely to “HELP!” with their wallets.

Even the largest problems in the world, like Katrina, 9/11, the Asian Tsunami, AIDS and Maleria, received less funding with the more people effected by them.

Viewers need to identify with your subject. They need an emotional connection. The minute you begin to add more people, more statistics, the insight you are providing for your viewers can breed callousness, because their hearts stop to feel and their brains begin to rationalize.

Statistic don’t generate emotion. The human heart does not connect to percentages and graphs.

How to Tell an Emotional Engaging Story

Use One Persons Story

Your organization’s biggest mistake is to create a story that entangles more than one person’s testimony. Engage your donors emotional system by telling them stories! Give your IV a face and a name. If people can’t identify with the person in your video you decrease the likelihood of people giving to your charity.

Think about this quote from Mother Teresa, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” That is exactly how your viewers will think!!

Focus on People not Stats

Trying to blend your IVs with other statistics will not help you at all. In fact, it will decrease your donations by about 50%. The heart reacts with compassion when one person’s struggle – no matter how small or great, no matter if it’s a dog or a kid – can be identified with. The minute you show the stats…their brains take over. They rationalize and compare the numbers and forget the emotional response.

I remember trying the IV with one of my customers, Life Services, a non-profit serving women in pregnancy crisis. We had them choose one patient, by the name of Rose, who chose to have her baby boy, Jack. So, we titled the video, “Meet Baby Jack” (watch it on Youtube). It was to play at their banquet, where they also had a speaker talk for 30 minutes. The video was about 4.5 minutes in length. By the end of the banquet, we had a survey for the attendees to select, which part of the presentation got them to give to the organization. 45% of the people put down the video. The rest of the votes went to the speaker. All, I can say is this, it took about 5 minutes to convince 45% of the attendees to give to Life Services. That, to me, was a huge impact our video made for their organization.

Here are some quick tips to help you find your “identifiable victim”:

  1. Find someone that has been helped by your organization. Find a dog, find a cat, a baby…
  2. Name them.
  3. Share their conflict.
  4. Share how you came to their rescue.
  5. Focus on the hopeful and not so much on the hopeless.
  6. Give them a chance to know that their contribution will make a difference.

Now, I want to hear from you. Have you thought about using an IV to become this year’s poster child for your charity? Tell me about it in the comments below! Need tips and advice in designing your next video marketing move? Visit and sign up for our email newsletter.

And please, continue to stand up for your cause, because only you can inspire change in your community.

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