Why Telling One Person’s Story Moves Your Constituents to Action

You didn’t go into the nonprofit sector to learn more about Psychology. And you certainly aren’t planning on sitting (or sleeping) through another lecture anytime soon. We get it. After all, you’re just focused on making your mission happen. At all costs.

But what if understanding a simple Psychology term could help your mission thrive? It’s actually a simple concept that could help you, and we promise to guide you through every step of the way. So sit back for the easiest Psychology lesson of your life. We promise, there won’t be a pop quiz at the end.

The (Not-So) Hard Stuff: The Singularity Effect

The concept that could take your mission to new heights is known to nonprofits as the singularity effect, or as the identifiable victim theory. So just what is this term that could help skyrocket your nonprofit marketing to new heights and get donors to see what you see in your organization?

Basically it means this: as humans, we’re more likely to identify with a single person in need than with the masses or a number. But why? We’re human. We connect with other humans. The theory states that when we feel like we’re helping a single person or victim, we tend to donate more. For example, hearing about Joe who has a disease and how it affected him would cause us to donate more than hearing about the disease in general and how it affects thousands of people.

When we hear numbers, they don’t mean much to us. It could be because we simply can’t fathom the amount. Or, it could be because numbers just don’t strike an emotional chord.

One Nonprofit Doing It Right: St. Baldrick’s Foundation

One organization that understands the importance of utilizing the singularity effect is the St. Baldrick’s Foundation (SBF), an organization dedicated to fighting childhood cancer through funding research grants.

SBF singles out ambassadors to put faces with childhood cancer. Also, SBF uses a sombering but important reminder that 1 in 5 children will not survive by featuring an ambassador who has passed on after losing their battle.

Then, the St. Baldrick’s foundation takes it even another step further (as if you thought that was possible!).

When fundraisers host events in the community, they can choose specific children to honor from the community. Suddenly, proximity adds a whole new element to the mix. For example, an upcoming event in our community features Colton, among other children, who grew up in a city near us. How could you not want to make a difference after you see somebody close to your home who has been affected by childhood cancer?

The Take-Away Points:

  • People want to donate when they feel an emotional connection to a single person (the singularity effect). Search for a particularly enthralling story that showcases the reason your organization exists today.
  • Then, spread their story. Put it on your website, communicate their story to volunteers and more. Shout it from the rooftops. If nobody seems to be connecting, find a different story.
  • Remember: this single person could be anybody. You could even choose to tell a volunteer’s story or a donor’s story about why they choose to volunteer/donate. Connecting with a single individual is powerful stuff. So choose wisely!

So, now that you’ve been schooled on psychology (hopefully it wasn’t TOO painful), how can your organization use the singularity effect (or the identifiable victim theory) to better convey your mission’s importance?


Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

July 25, 2013

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