How the use of technology and the identifiable victim effect in charity campaigning has potential to positively impact fundraising targets.

Written for Research To Action

Thomas Schelling acknowledged the identifiable victim effect in 1986 stating, “an individual life described in detail evokes more sympathy and aid than an equivalent life described as a statistic.” Multimedia refers to campaigns that contain more than two media modes, such as text, images and video, campaigns with text and a photo are generally not considered multimedia.

 The identifiable victim effect in combination with multimedia in charitable campaigns’ can positively impact the cognitive and emotional processes of possible donors. Decision-making involves a dual process model of cognition, both cognitive and affective, often referred to as the intellectual and insightful. The latter process is associated with emotions and the cognitive or intellectual process is considered a more deliberate process of thinking, triggered by information rather than emotion. The affective system has been described as a adaptive system that automatically, effortlessly, and intuitively organizes experience and directs behaviour, thus more valuable than deliberative thinking (an output of the cognitive system). The power of the affective system can trigger potential donors willingness to support risk–reducing action (donating).

The use of multimedia in various charity communications campaigns can trigger strong affective thinking used unconsciously by the reader, who can become transported into a campaign containing auditory and visual elements. Audiovisuals can give a viewer a sense of participating in an event or, at least, witnessing it personally. They can enhance the experience of transportation as it provides a deeper impression of victims within narrative, facilitating the reader in identifying with people and situations. Mental imagery resulting from transportation has been known to positively influence potential donors decision-making processes, towards giving funds to help supply aid.

Multimedia can make messages more memorable than text alone, whilst stimulating potential donors. Arguably, when an identifiable victim rather than a group is featured with multimedia elements, the reader’s psychological pulse towards donation is longer lasting. It is suggested that people can become more mentally, and emotionally engaged when they process information about specific individuals than when they process information about non specific targets. The combination of the identifiable victim effect and multimedia provoke deeper mental engagement with memory banks; therefore application of both within a charitable campaign suggests they will have extended effects on a potential donor exposed to the campaign. This could in turn encourage potential donors to partake in donating to a cause at a later date, if they did not choose to do so at the initial exposure to the campaign as a result of memories stored.

Although context alone can create strong imagery and a sense of transportation for a potential donor, it is suggested that the cognitive system is more responsive to pictures than to words. Stimulation through mental imagery is increased if audio-visual aspects are available, lack of audio-visual aspects reduces the effective process of cognition due to a decreased sense of vividness and recall and gain. All these cognitive processes are triggered by the strong mental imagery produced by embedded multimedia. This overpowering impact on the effective process of cognition can have a positive impact on the cognitive process undertaken by a potential donor, upon considering donating to a cause.