Recent evidence reveals that for many of your donors and prospects, the numbers may not add up. Share your statistics the right way, and they'll mean more...
I've written before about the importance of readability, which in part means keeping your donor communications around an 8th Grade Level or lower, because folks prefer easier words.
It turns out they prefer easier numbers too.
In the early pages of Stop Getting Ripped Off, bestselling author Bob Sullivan talks about "innumeracy" in the U.S. He defines it as a kind of mathematical illiteracy.
The upshot is this: innumeracy is rampant and includes far more educated professionals than you'd imagine.
Not to say we're a nation of ninnies. But if I understand Mr. Sullivan right, it's not a stretch to assume that big numbers and percentages mean little to many adult Americans, better known as: donors and prospects.
So then, should you shun statistics and numbers over 100 in your donor communications?
Au contraire: your numbers matter. But the way you present them matters more.
I've gathered these statistics from the ProLiteracy website in order to walk you through an example:
- 774 million people in the world are illiterate
- Two-thirds of those people are adult women
- 63% of prison inmates can't read
Let's tackle the percentage first.
It's an old copywriting trick to convert percentages into common language, and one that's especially helpful when you're talking about people or animals.
So instead of writing, "63% of prison inmates can't read," you instead write: More than six out of every ten prison inmates can't read.
Now for the larger-than-life number: 774 million.
Most humans have no way to process a number that big. We simply can't get our heads around it. Adding a reference point, though, changes things considerably: 774 million people in the world are illiterate -- more than the entire population of North America.
(Note: the population of N.A. is just over 525M, so I'm off a bit here. But you get the picture.) And of course if you're writing to donors outside the U.S. and Canada, you'll want to use a different reference point.
And how about that scary fraction?
Two-thirds is what, sixty-six percent? So you could, of course, use the six out of ten example above.
You could also try something like: If you can't read, odds are two out of three that you're a woman.
Percentages aren't always the enemy, though, so don't go off on a delete spree.
If you can, frame them. Mr. Sullivan does it convincingly when he lists some innumeracy statistics, all of them percentages: 22 percent Below Basic, 33 percent Basic, etc.
Then he frames them: These numbers mean that most U.S. consumers can't "calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies...", "calculate the cost of raising a child for a year...."
(Note: the book qualifies these. I've edited for length.)
Officially, Chip and Dan Heath call this "The Human-Scale Principle" -- giving everyday meaning to your numbers -- in one of my all-time favorite books, Made to Stick.
Here's one more... lightning and the lottery winner.
Also from Made to Stick, the story of the science teacher who was trying to drive home to his students the futility of playing the lottery. But the big numbers were of the mind-numbing variety.
His solution? To "ground the probability in a relationship." He told the kids they were more likely to be hit by lightning than to win the lottery.
So the next time you've got a half-page of statistics staring you in the face, see how you can bring them down to size. Your donors will thank you for it.
And lastly, fundraisers, consider one more place this has huge implications: Your bequest literature.
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