The Power of One

Nope.  This isn’t an homage to the ways that one person can make a difference in the world (though I do believe that’s true), this is about the power of one story.

If you’re like most people responsible for fundraising this time of year, you’re trying to put the finishing touches on your end of year appeal.  A lot is riding on it.  Probably, whether or not you make your fundraising goals for the year is dependent on the success of your appeal, given that 40% of an organization’s contributions are received in the last three months of the year.

If you haven’t yet finalized your copy or decided what to write about, this article is for you.  What you need is one story, about one person (or animal or plant).  One. 

In a fundraising experiment almost a decade ago, researchers discovered that one is more powerful than many.  In the experiment, one group of people was shown an appeal that focused on Rokia, one child who was starving in Mali.  Another group was told about the magnitude of hunger in Africa.    

So which group received the most generous response?  The group told only about Rokia. 

In a subsequent study, asking people to help two children (showing twice the need) versus telling people about one hungry child, the finding was repeated.  Overall, people are more generous when asked about helping one person than they are when asked to give aid to several. 

These findings are counter-intuitive.  We’ve all seen the outpouring of support following a natural disaster.  We tend to think more need = bigger response.  But researchers believe that people are overwhelmed by the scope of massive tragedy and less able to empathize with the plight of many.   One story makes the need more tangible and real.  Most people also think, “I can’t solve all the problems of the world, but I can help one person” so distill your organization’s story down to the impact you’ve had on one family, one child, one homeless person, one addict, one species, one elephant, one person who learned to read. 

So what do you do when someone on your development committee insists that you focus on the thousands of children who are abused in America, remember:  the power of one.

 PS:  We all know the PS gets read, right? (Afterall, you’re reading one now).  Want some fabulous PS lines?  Check them out here.   


Want to make sure you don't miss our fundraising tips?  Sign up for our free, weekly email newsletter here.