• Ron Rescigno

Feel, Do Not Think!

As the years have gone by, I’ve discovered there’s a problem with people—they’re not logical! There, I’ve said it. What convinced me to tell you about my discovery was a study I read that was done by Carnegie-Melon.

In this study, researchers invited survey participants to tell them about particular technology products. Each person was paid with ten one-dollar bills. They were also given a letter asking them to donate to “Save the Children” and a reply envelope.

Participants were then divided up into two different groups. Both groups got a different letter. One of the letters featured very disturbing statistics about child poverty in Africa. For example, in one country, 3.2 million people were living on the verge of starvation. In another, 2.4 million had no access to clean water. In a third country, 4 million children were in dire need of emergency shelter. All of these, I’m sure you will agree, are urgent crises affecting a very large number of children.

In contrast, the other letter had no statistics. What it did have, however, was a story of a little girl:

Malia is a 6-year old girl from Togo, Africa. She is desperately poor and faces a severe threat of starvation. With you financial gift, her life will be changed forever.

With your support, and the support of other caring persons, Save the Children will work with Malia’s family and other members of her community to help feed her, provide her with education, as well as basic medical care and hygiene education.

I don’t think you need me to tell you which letter generated more donations from those participating in the survey. Malia’s letter brought in an average of $3.50, while the letter with the statistics generated an average of just $1.02. As professional fundraisers, I’m sure this doesn’t surprise you.

This may surprise you:

A third group was brought in under the same pretense of taking a survey about tech products. This group all got the same letter—the one with Malia’s story and the numbers as supplementary to the story.

In other words, both emotions and intellects were appealed to. This group gave about a dollar and a half less than the group who got only the story.

The conclusion of the researchers was that while analytical thinking may reinforce people’s beliefs, it actually discourages them from taking action.


If your goal is to get people to give, go beyond getting them to think and touch their feelings.

Have you done any similar testing at your organizagtion? If so, I sure would like to know what happened.