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January 30, 2011 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Garnering sympathy for a cause?

Whether it be collecting things for the needy or advocating an oppression of rights (e.g. animal rights), what would you do while 'presenting your case' to a group of people to get them to sympathize towards a cause? I'm looking for any suggestions in doing that. It could be anything related to the presentation.
posted by Ragingmelon to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Tell stories about individual cases. (e.g. tell the story of a specific animal and then link that to the bigger picture)
posted by squishles at 8:47 AM on January 30, 2011

What are your requirements? Is all you need sympathy, or are you looking to translate that sympathy into something else?

Because it is easy to get someone to feel something. Not so easy to convert that into something else.
posted by gjc at 8:51 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

If this is a cause related to people, find people who can tell their own story in person.

There's a cause that a group of kids in my daughter's school district is involved in supporting, and they are relentless about keeping it in front of the kids, day after day, year after year.

And gjc has a good point. If you're looking for donations, you have to make it as easy as possible to donate. If you're looking for volunteers to help, then you have to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. Each requires a different technique.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:00 AM on January 30, 2011

If the cause is people-related, I think it can sometimes help to get people to consider how easily they or someone they love could become a person who would need the kind of help you're talking about.

- If your employer went out of business tomorrow and you lost your health insurance, what would you do?
- The odds of any child being born with XYZ congenital condition are A% - it could be your best friend's next child, your next grandchild, etc.
- Imagine if your dog came down with [horrible-dog-disease-you're-campaigning-about].
- What would you buy to eat each week if the only store you could get to was a gas station? Let's brainstorm a list together.

Then bring in one of the actual beneficiaries to tell their story. It'll resonate even more if the person is already picturing themselves or someone they love in that situation.
posted by vytae at 9:21 AM on January 30, 2011

Individual stories mixed in with just enough stats so people understand it's not rare, coupled with how effectively you're going to leverage their support into change. People don't want to pour their money/sympathy/time into an endless hole -- convince them that supporting your cause will make a difference.
posted by headnsouth at 9:46 AM on January 30, 2011

If relevant, tell the group your story of how & why you got involved and why this cause continues to be so important to you. Use that to lead into a call to action.
posted by cheerwine at 10:46 AM on January 30, 2011

You have to present the potential success. Just saying "look at what a sad situation this is" makes people feel like "wow, sounds like everything is hopeless." You have to be more like, "but all it takes is ten dollars per woman to provide an outfit to wear to a job interview, which could turn her whole life around."

So have Josie tell her story of how she became homeless, found the shelter, and then ultimately got a job. "Women like Josie need vocational training, interview coaching, an outfit for interviews, resume printing and postage, and bus fare to an average of ten interviews. The cost to us per woman is $200. If you can donate $2000 tonight, you can help ten women lift themselves out of poverty. Our program has a 90% completion rate (compared to an industry average of 40%) because of our thorough screening process. Five years later, 75% of those who started the process are still employed and living in a home they rent or even own. Next let me introduce Susana to tell her story."
posted by salvia at 10:48 AM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ever been to a donation page where you can't find the [Donate NOW] button?
Ever wanted to sign up to help a cause but couldn't figure out who to contact?
Ever wanted to to buy a girlscout cookie and they couldn't find the darn order form --oh, that's right. The Girlscouts have it together. I've *NEVER* wanted to buy a girlscout cookie & they couldn't find the order form!

Sympathy is great, but nobody wants to have to work to make their support gesture.

If you're asking for volunteers, make it easy to sign up.
If you're asking for money, make it easy to give.
If you're asking for stuff, make it easy to receive.
And make followup contact with your organization easy, easy easy.

Message aside, do not forget to include an "ask" in your pitch. I used to write gift solicitations for a living, and I am amazed when I see one of these pitches, be it written or video, that just never gets explicit about asking for money (or resources, or action, or...). Wrenching people's hearts is not the goal. Getting a specific action, be it volunteering time or handing over coats, is. So do not forget to close by asking for a specific course of action consistent with your goals. Then make it as easy of possible to go from 'thinking about' to doing.
posted by Ys at 1:15 PM on January 30, 2011

Some snippets from articles about the psychology of donation:

List and Reiley wrote letters to potential donors saying that the university wanted to buy computers for a new environmental-research center. They varied the amount of money that supposedly had already been raised. In some letters, they put the amount in hand at $2,000, out of the $3,000 they needed for a given computer; in others, they said they had raised only $300 and still needed $2,700. The results were overwhelming. The more upfront money Central Florida claimed to have on hand, the more additional money it raised.
We are called into action by emotions — we see a cute toddler in trouble, and our hearts go out to her, but numbers and statistics numb our emotions and reduce our motivation to act. For example, it turns out that describing one starving child in Africa creates higher emotional responses than describing two starving children using an equivalent amount of information. The single child creates a higher emotional response and, as a consequence, people donate more money to the one child compared with the two. It also turns out that describing one starving child creates more emotional reactions (and donations) relative to a situation where the same child is described but this time with additional information concerning the magnitude of the hunger problem (3 million kids in Malawi are facing hunger).
A researcher asked passers-by for complicated directions. Not all subjects bothered to help. Some subjects were asked first for an extremely small favor: the researcher inquired as to the time of day. Virtually all of the passers-by checked their watch and provided the time. Here’s the interesting part: subjects that complied with the small request were much more likely to respond to the more time-consuming one.

Making a small initial request of your targets won’t turn them off. Rather, if it is small enough to be granted by almost everyone, it will make them more likely to respond positively to your ultimate request.
posted by martinrebas at 1:16 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

@ gjc: I guess my question was somewhat misleading; I was looking for answers for how I could translate sympathy into encouraging donations of necessities (not money). But I got excellent answers, so thanks!

P.S I realize that many got best answers, but I feel they were worthy.
posted by Ragingmelon at 4:45 AM on February 1, 2011

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