Friday, 15 March 2013


Statistics have the power to impress or surprise, but often it is the account of the individual that is most compelling. Even the most rational decision makers love a good story, and that is why the best research has to uncover the story and not just the statistics.

Charities understand the power of the individual's story. It doesn't seem surprising that we find stories of individuals more emotional, indeed TV ads which recount the plight of an individual seem almost cliché. Nonetheless, these accounts can have an undeniably powerful effect on donations.

In a simple experiment quoted in his book, The Upside of Irrationality, Dan Ariely found that participants were willing to donate roughly twice as much of their experiment earnings to charity when they were presented with information in the form of an individual's story rather than statistical information about the same topic. Perhaps most surprisingly, donations tended to be substantially higher when the individual case was presented alone, rather than presented simultaneously with the statistics.

And this is far from the only quirk of human behaviour when it comes to donations. Donations can be subject to the effect of common heuristics and biases such as anchoring and the availability bias. These help explain why sometimes higher donations can be received when a suggested level isn't set, and why support for some causes can be highly volatile. (For an introduction to heuristics and a good account of how they affect our behaviour, see Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow).

So what has got me thinking about charity and the stories of individuals? Well, the team at Other lines of enquiry North (myself included) are running the Marathon of the North at the end of April to raise money for Tynedale Hospice. Other lines of enquiry North is our specialist North East division, so we thought what better way to give a bit back to the community than support a local event and charity by bearing the North East weather and taking part in the BQ Team Relay [1].

We feel the Tynedale Hospice does some great work. But rather than me tell you that, why not take a look at their website [2]? And of course it isn't up to me to suggest if or how much you might donate, but if you do want to help us raise money for this very worthwhile cause (and help keep us going when the pain sets in) then head on over to:

And if you want to make a silly request along with your donation feel free. You never know we might just make it happen.

Dan Siddle
Research Innovation Specialist

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