Two Lessons from Kristof

Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times corresponded Nicholas Kristof travels the world and brings back the stories he finds in an effort to raise awareness for humanitarian concerns. Working in conjunction with powerful agenda setters such as Oprah Winfrey and The New York Times, he’s most recently brought tremendous focus to the plight of women in Third World countries. In the December issue of Outside Magazine, Kristof offers excellent advice in garnering support for humanitarian issues that applies to all of us working on a cause, no matter how great or how small.

To begin, Kristof turns to social psychology which finds people galvanize into action when presented with hopeful situations, ones that they can help transform into success. He cites an experiment which found that people are much more likely to support a water-treatment facility to save 4,500 lives in a refugee camp with 11,000 people in it. However, support significantly drops if the camp sustains 250,000 inhabitants. Proportions are more important than overall numbers.

He also compares two columns where he documented the lives of two individuals. The first was about the impossibly difficult life of an orphan. The second story recounted the heroic accomplishments of a rape survivor who built a school in order to foster attitudes discordant with rape mentality. The first column depressed readers… what difference could they make to mitigate the circumstances of an orphan’s life? However, the second column drew astounding support—over $500,000 total—because readers knew that there support would make a positive difference. The pathway to success had already been carved.

In marketing your own stories, focus on successes. For instance, if running a shelter, share the empowerment women find through education or job training your organization provides, not the horrific abuse they have sustained. Your constituents want to align themselves with brighter tomorrows, not yesterday’s pain.

Secondly, Kristof relays that a message resonates more strongly when focused on an individual instead of a group. Research has found that empathy begins to fade when the number of victims rises from one to just two! One of the reasons Kiva.org is such a phenomenal success is because donors appreciate being a part of an individual’s success.

For my part, I’ve noticed that I whiz by tweets and blog posts referring to large groups, but I will often pause to click on and even read an article about an individual. It’s simply more personable, and I feel that I can make a difference. For example, going through my Twitter feed yesterday, the only article I stopped to open was one in which a Brooklyn artist is offering a painting for auction to raise money for a talented musician she admires that is undergoing cancer treatment. I’ve actually bookmarked the auction to track how well she does!

When marketing your cause, keep in mind the valuable insight from Nicholas Kristof’s experiences and research from Social Psychology: emphasize hopefulness and keep the spotlight on the individual. You’ll be well on your way to realizing a successful campaign!