Tell your story from a better point of view – theirs

give_now

GlobalGiving has always required its partner organizations to send progress reports to their donors. And for good reason: sometimes these donors click the “give’ button when they read a compelling update. In fact, between 2007 and 2014, global givers gave $1,077,000 through progress reports.

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Because of my work on the GlobalGiving Storytelling project, I’ve been long interested in whether I could write a computer algorithm that would be able to tell the difference between a “good” story and a “poor” one. Last week I figured out how to detect a story’s point of view, and it appears to have a huge effect on whether people are inspired to give.

It turns out that there are 7 points of view that a story, narrative, or progress report could have:

These range from cool to warm, from personal to collective. But which of these is points of view is best if the goal is to get people to give again?

The Results

I ran the “point of view” detector on all GlobalGiving progress reports to date and all of our East African community effort stories. For contrast, I included 812 examples of great storytelling from Cowbird.com, which has been emailing me a “story of the day” for the last two years. These Cowbird stories are manually curated, and thus they reflect what points of view people find most emotionally compelling.

How common is each point of view?

The fraction of reports with each perspective is shown in the box. Multiply by 100 to get percents.

GlobalGiving Project Reports (N=25,337) East African Community Stories (N=61,946) Cowbird.com Story of the day (N=812)
fourth “this org” 0.35 fourth “this org” 0.29 first singular “I” 0.514
first plural “we” 0.268 third plural “they” 0.197 third singular “he” 0.112
third plural “we” 0.126 None (no pronouns) 0.18 fourth “it” 0.108
third singular “he” 0.098 third singular “he” 0.117 None (no pronouns) 0.078
second “you” 0.069 first plural “we” 0.084 first plural “we” 0.07
first singular “I” 0.046 first singular “I” 0.078 second “you” 0.057
None 0.04 mixed 0.049 third plural 0.033
mixed 0.003 second 0.007 mixed 0.028

People who talked about community activities in our East African storytelling project tended to focus on “it” stories, mentioning “this organization” much more than any person, including themselves. Project leaders on GlobalGiving were even more likely to talk about themselves. 51% of Cowbird’s “story of the day” collection is told primarily from a first person perspective.

Only 5% of all reports told their story using a “mixed” perspective. An example of a “mixed” perspective is where the organization reminds the reader who they are and why what they do matters, then shifts to letting a beneficiary tell his or her own story (an “I” story), then wraps up by acknowledging that donors helped make this happen (a “you” story).

Example:

We’re gearing up to head to Uganda! By the time you get this, we’ll be gone. Thanks to your support we will be taking additional fabric that they can not purchase there (and exploring further with dignitaries how to mnake that fabric available in Uganda). We’ll distribute kits…

You should see the girl’s faces when they receive kits. I hope you can come someday. They are so grateful. The last time we were there a girl in Gulu, Uganda said when she was asked if her kit would really change anything, “I will no longer have to fear.” Thanks to you more girls will have more dignity, more safety, less distraction at school and yes, less fear. For that matter, without your support, she might not have been able to stay in class at all. It never ceases to amaze me that such a simple, direct solution improves so much for girls around the globe. Thank you for being an important part of the solution.

The “mixed perspective” does best:

 Effectiveness of project reports in raising money None third plural (they) fourth (this org, it) first plural (we) third singular (he) first singular (I) second (you) mixed
Total $$ raised 78 220 267 292 302 329 421 567
Donations per report 0.9 2.5 2.8 3.1 3.5 3.8 4.8 6.5
Average $$ per donation 24.9 46.7 53.9 55.8 52.4 51.9 58.0 60.5
Number of reports (N) 611 2519 7413 5881 2184 1056 1449 98

 

Notes: N = 25,337 published reports. Data includes cases where nobody gave any money after reading reports (23% of the total).

Project reports with a “mixed” perspective raise 111% more money and get 160% more donations than reports with “fourth” org-centric point of view.

The Gap

There is a huge gap between how most organizations speak and what donors respond to. The green line near the center shows what fraction of stories have each of 6 points of view. The blue and red lines represent more donations and more money raised from a “you”, “I” and “you and I” mixed perspective:

donations-volume-size-vs-pov-projrept

Other factors:

  • High GlobalGiving staff progress report ratings correlate with more money raised. What we consider a five-star report raises more than the four, which raises more than a three, etc.
  • Women who write progress reports raise 30% more money, 30% more donations, and 5% larger donations than men do. (We inferred male/female from author names using www.i-gender.com)
  • It’s the setup, not the ask: Most reports include an explicit plea for more funding, with words like give, support, giving, or donate. Including this “ask” in your report helps donations a little, but far less than including a story from the people you are trying to help. Donors can see the big shiny orange give button and know what to do without being told.

Convinced yet? If so, then maybe you understand why GlobalGiving has been so effusive about organizations that listen to their communities and share this feedback through our story-centered-learning paradigm. The smartest way to fix your point of view is to talk to others and share their stories, instead of only writing from your perspective. Not only are reports with a “mixed” perspective better for the community (who have very few ways to speak to the people who influence money), they also are better for organizations (because GlobalGiving donors clearly appear to be listening).

Try before you publish!

I created a simple demo tool. Paste your text into the box and it will analyze your point of view: djotjog.com/c/report/.

This is just one more way that Globalgiving helps organizations listen, act, and learn  more, faster. In fact we’re giving away money through our storytelling fund to encourage everyone to do this.

Marc

Marc Maxmeister is part of GlobalGiving's impact team.

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