When I woke up on Wednesday last week to news of the earthquake in Haiti, I knew I would give some money. What's been bothering me ever since is why it then took me a few days to actually do it.
If pressed, I could give you a good excuse for the delay. Wednesday and Thursday were pretty hectic as we helped to get emergency appeals out for our clients (we do not charge for this work). But if I'm being honest, the real reason for procrastinating was I couldn't decide which organisation to support.
It wasn't that I doubted any of them would make anything other than good use of my gift. It was more that I had too much choice. And I'm sure I wasn't alone.
Let's imagine for a moment that a broken television, radio, phone and computer meant that my only access to news was via a newspaper. Unfortunately, I failed to count how many emergency press adverts were in Friday's Guardian before it was discarded. But there were a lot. The G2 supplement also focused on Haiti and included this guide to which charity to support. The journalist first suggests donating to DEC, but then points out that not all charities are part of the group. And without sharing any clear criteria, she then suggests which are 'your best bets' should you be considering a donation.
In reality, the asks in the newspaper only added to the appeals on television, radio, via email, twitter etc. Thankfully, the response to the Haiti appeal has been very generous, but it reminded me of a study I read about how choice can depress response, which I thought was worth sharing.
'Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion'* contains an easily digestible chapter summing up research in this area called 'When does offering people more make them want less?'
One study it describes is where scientists set up food tasting stalls, which offered either six or 24 flavours of jam. When offered the wider range to choose from, just 3% of people made a purchase, while 30% of those who had just six flavours to choose from went on to buy.
This is how the authors attempt to interpret the results of this and other studies like this.
'What could possibly account for this tenfold increase in sales? The researchers suggest that when so many choices are made available, consumers find the decision-making process frustrating, owing perhaps to the burden of having to differentiate between so many options. This may result in disengagement from the task at hand, leading to an overall reduction in motivation and interest in the product as a whole.'
The terrible situation facing people in Haiti has moved people to give with incredible generosity, but today I thought I'd pick out a few examples of fundraising that managed to catch my eye, despite the competition.
Standing out: Of the press adverts in Friday's Guardian, the one that stood out to me was MSF's. To start with, it was the only full page advert. It included a report from staff in Haiti and details of the inflatable hospitals that could be up and running in hours.
Harnessing the 'herd' instinct: I realise I saw only an infinitessimally minute fraction of the tweets concerning Haiti, but this one was the most compelling for me.
Why? Well, @missrachharris is much loved former colleague of mine. And I'm sure there's some sort of 'herd' instinct behind thinking yes, I should follow her and her personal recommendation of supporting Save the Children.
Offering genuine insight: I also liked this blog post from The Red Cross. It was well-titled (Getting aid to Haiti quake survivors) given the news coverage on the time it was taking to get help to people in need. It also offers a personal insight into how aid is sent out.
Saying thank you: I found it very refreshing that one of the first things that ActionAid wanted to say to their donors in their mailed emergency appeal was thank you. In the few days it would take for the letter to drop, they were aware that many of their supporters would have already gone online or phoned to make a donation. Being thanked for their prompt action therefore came at the beginning of the letter.
To finish, some less motivating examples.
I have to admit the DEC radio appeal, voiced by Mariella Frostrup, lost me with the first sentence. 'There are some disasters so terrible that the natural human impulse is to look away. I'm here to urge you not to.' Which seemed a rather clumsy way of tackling the helplessness that people can feel in the face of such a large-scale catastrophe. Perhaps a better way would have been to point out that there are some disasters so terrible that a generous response from everyone is desperately needed, then prove how each donor can make a difference.
Oxfam's email could also have done with addressing the same issue. The subject line was Haiti. Over two million people need your help. Of the other email and email reminders I saw, I'd struggle to pick out any as particularly strong although some had the benefit of being prompt. UNICEF's appeal arrived through the post on Saturday, which was quick.
When it came to my own decision, I gave to MSF and I'm not exactly sure why. I already have a regular gift with them and tend to trust them to say when they need help and when they don't. This was backed up on Saturday when I saw they were no longer asking for cash, but for more regular donations.
*Noah J Goldstein PhD, Steve J Martin and Robert B Cialdini PhD.