In the seaon of giving, the psychology of how we choose where we give….

So, I just read this article by NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof  , explaining  the psychology of how people choose what causes to support.  It’s really interesting.

Some of these things totally applied to the mental process I go through when I think of charities. Theyre also interesting to me as a writer trying to effect how people think and act.  I don’t think we’re  even conscious of half this stuff.

Here’s what he said – I’m paraphrasing the main points  – see what you think:

1- People want to give to something with a high success rate.  That may seem obvious. But this doesnt just mean they dont want to give to corrupt countries or bad charties, but that even if cause is succesful, but in small ways, it will still register as a “defeat” to donors and they will look elsewhere.

Again, this makes sense, except, what about the people who are helped in the  small successes?  It  reminded me of the starfish story— thousands of starfish wash up on the shore and are going to die; one guy throws them back, one by one, only able to save a very few. A second guy says “Why are you bothering, what youre doing doesnt matter.” First guy throws in another starfish, and says “It mattered to that one.”  I love that story. You know who else does?

And to me, the drop in the bucket concept is about each person doing what they can and about the collective effect and the ripple effect of all those drops. One life improved is one life improved. I think looking for the biggest most sweeping successes can leave alot of people stranded. 

But, I guess the mind works how it works. The next point-

2-People want to help one specific person achieve something:  “Help Margie buy chickens”, not fix a huge situation effecting a lot of people “Supply the refugee camp”, nor even help a group “represented” by one person, “You can help the people of Jack’s village…”

Is this why I stopped being a Save The Children sponsor when they said I couldnt correspond with one kid anymore? I wonder whatever happened to Carlos…. Is this why I like so much- you can give to a specific person? There are other great groups that work that way too, like  which helps you fund specific classrooms across America. Women For Women  lets people sponsor specific women in Africa.  

Kiva entrepreneurs Im in business with:

On the other hand, I wonder sometimes if the love of the micro is a  problem. While it’s great to connect one-to-one, and, in fact, crucial,  it seems to me that so much of poverty and related issues are due to macro-level issues that people maybe dont want to take a look at. Ive  debated a lot (in my head) about this. Is operating only on the micro-level (like giving a kiva loan) enough if  stuff on the macro level (world trade policy for example) just going to undermine that micro-gain?

I think, possibly,this way of looking at things also seems to relieve of us of some of our responsibility too conveniently. For instance, maybe I start thinking  the fact I gave a micro-loan means I don’t have  to care about whether or not  my cellphone runs on conflict minerals…or about from finding out what conflict minerals even are, which, admittedly, Im not too sure about. But this is something on my mind a lot, the small vs big picture.

3. People are motivated to action by a happy success story (“woman rises from the ashes of poverty”) not by reading about how they can be part of stopping something bad (“help stop this tragedy…”). Kristof’s example is how great response a rape survivor Mukthar Mai who built a school has gotten from his readers.

I don’t  think this way of thinking is bad. Why not emphasize what can or has been done for the good ? Why not give an example of someone who has made progress instead of presenting an image of “the needy.” 

 The only problem here can be that success stories are by nature anecdtoal. And anecdotes  can let someone oversubscribe to the idea that anyone can get out of any circumstance if they just work hard enough, or that things arent as bad as they really are. Sometimes a success story comes from a person with extraordinairy luck or tenacity. We dont want to inadvertantly sentence anyone without those gifts to live in failure. But if what the research says is this story gets us to act then I guess that’s okay.

4. People aren’t motivated by statistics and cold facts. 

I always notice how, with stories about Haiti, writers are quick to get to the fact it is the poorest country in our hemisphere, how there is 80% unemployment, how there are hundreds of thousands of orphans and child laborers. I think the more I read, the more I feel numbed to these things. I guess Im not the only one…Though, I also sort of like reading about theories and statistics.

And Kristof points out stats are a big deal. The key to good development, he says, is knowing what works best is important, and that takes data.

5. Giving makes people feel good as they help – it’s a win-win.

I think we all know this from experience, though I have to say, I didnt feel all that physically good when I was at about mile 12 on that cancer walk. Here is an interesting little science article on how giving makes us happy.

Anyhow just thought it was interesting. And of course, if you feel inspired now to give somewhere but arent sure where, hey, how bout the Holiday Drive for Haiti and CTA!  🙂

Now, here it is, your moment of twin:


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