How to Tap People’s Generosity

Through detailed, well told personal stories of individuals dealing with identifiable difficulties.

Exhibit A—The grandmama bus monitor who endured bullying at the hands of marauding middle schoolers. The national media shined their light on her plight and a few days later people, moved by her predicament, had sent her $650,000+.

Exhibit B—The young East L.A. boy who built an arcade at his dad’s auto supply storefront. No one knew or cared until one person told his story on-line. Next thing you know his college education was paid for by an army of people moved by his creativity and lack of business success.

Exhibit C—A Mexican-American Seattle resident whose story was told—as part of a series on the recession—on Seattle’s National Public Radio station. Raised in a poor Mexican family. Emigrated to the U.S. Got an engineering degree and a good job with a Seattle firm. He helped his firm determine how much buildings would cost to build. When the recession hit and building ceased, he lost his job. So he opened a taco truck with his brother, but it was a struggle. Until his story was told on the radio. The next day a long line of customers weaved around the block. By mid-afternoon, they had run out of food. While the taco truck took off, other listeners offered him good jobs. In the end, building picked back up and his original employer offered him his job back. He took it.

Forget generic pleas to fight ageism, or the cost of higher education, or economic dislocation. People want to feel like their donation is helping a specific person.

The problem with this of course is that the most vulnerable people, who are the most in need, rarely have their stories told by the media.

A related question is how can governments, whether local, state, or the federal government, leverage this element of human nature to get people to see the potential benefits of selective tax increases? Governments would be well served by telling compelling stories of how individual people, families, or communities benefit from public spending.