Compassion goes viral

Howard Lake | 9 September 2015 | Blogs

We’ve known for months. Thousands drowning in the Mediterranean. We knew it was happening. Every news bulletin featured politicians wringing their hands and vowing to build higher fences to protect us.
Then things changed. Two, three images changed everything.
A man’s face, utterly broken, clutching his daughter for dear life as they set foot on dry land.
Another man, his face crumpled, his young daughter asleep over his shoulder as he grasped a fistful of biros he was trying to sell to survive.
And then, little Aylan.
I don’t need to show you these images; if you saw them, they are etched into your memory. And they created change; a massive outpouring of well-wishing and action as the very essence of human compassion went viral.
Months of facts and analysis didn’t move people. Raw emotional images did.
And the impulse to give increased when images of gratitude spread quickly. Germans embracing Syrians, tears in everyone’s eyes. Look, look, helping people feels good!
I’ll leave others to analyse the role of social media, and the many amazing crowdfunding initiatives. But I just wanted to highlight five simple points that apply to fundraising.
• Raw emotion inspires giving. Organisational structures, brand guidelines, approval procedures, key messages…they are all too often great at sanitising what you have to say. If your systems and guidelines don’t work, tear them up.
• Visuals and footage trump text. I write a lot, so that last sentence doesn’t come easy to me! But we all know it’s true. What’s the one image that will move people’s hearts to support you? Edit, edit, edit.
• You can’t fake it. The cleverest advertising idea means little in comparison to raw reality.
• Great journalism and great fundraising are very similar. Big complex, issues need to be distilled down to a level people can understand.
• People need to know what to do. Emotion alone isn’t enough. You need a call to action. You need to offer a way for people to make a difference. Once people saw that they could help directly, they didn’t hesitate.
• There are two types of charities, the quick and the dead. I think I maybe stole that line from Tom Peters. The public mood changes quickly. It’s easy to get left behind. Indeed, when compassion goes viral, good people can manage without good causes. Like the vehicles people load with goods for a Calais refugee camp, aid goes direct.
We like to talk a lot about storytelling in fundraising. The truth is that if we are too slow or inward-looking to make supporters the heroes of our stories, they are quite capable of writing better stories without us.
This isn’t just theory, it’s great fundraising practice.
Derek Humphries is Creative Director/Strategist at DTV Group where he helps causes worldwide raise money through DRTV and film. He is a volunteer organiser with the International Fundraising Congress, and a trustee of the Galapagos Conservation Trust.
Image: heart of toppling dominoes by Danm12 on