There is no doubt that one of the most heart-warming stories to come out of the Coronavirus epidemic has been the efforts of Captain Tom to raise money for our NHS. At the last count, he has raised just under £33m, an amazing amount of money by any stretch of the imagination. But why was he so successful?
The British public regularly shows its generosity. In 2019, for example, Children in Need raised £47.9m and Red Nose Day raised £63.5m. Both are staggering amounts of money.
How did Captain Tom capture the imagination?
The thing that interests me was what made the Captain Tom story resonate with so many of us? In his case, the message appeared simple: donate to the NHS. But how many of us stopped to think what that means? Which parts of the NHS were the funds going to, and why was it needed given that nearly 20% of taxpayer revenue is directed to the NHS each year?
Imagine instead the message being from the government: “We would like to put your taxes up 5% so that we can provide more funding to the NHS.” Would we have felt quite as good?
I’m not suggesting for a second that it wasn’t brilliant that so much was raised for our wonderful NHS – all key workers across many industries have been truly heroic. The fact is that the funds went to an NHS charity that supports parts of the NHS taxpayer revenue doesn’t.
Human behaviour and fundraising
My point is that we donated almost without thinking about questions such as how the money would be used, and why should we need to donate when so much taxpayer revenue goes to it already?
I think there are a couple of reasons, and both centred around typical human behaviour.
Our brains are programmed to work in two fundamentally different ways. There are, in fact, separate systems.
System one is the “immediate reaction” that makes us respond to something straight away in an instinctive way. System two is more reflective, and decisions are based on more analytical thought and consideration of evidence.
In this case, system one was in full operating mode (no pun intended). Many people’s instinct when they saw Captain Tom’s appeal was to help the NHS.
That’s not to say system two isn’t important, it is (as I mention below).
Humans react in predictable ways depending on how a subject matter is “framed”, or if you like, how the message is put across.
In Captain Tom’s case, it was a simple message: I am undertaking this amazing challenge, you can see me doing it, please help by donating to this important cause. It was clear, visual messaging, which all of us could immediately relate too.
Lessons for businesses
There are lessons we can take from this which can help us with our own businesses and organisations.
How we communicate with our customers, clients, donors, staff, etc. makes a huge difference to the outcome.
There is also a close relationship between human behaviour and analytics. Businesses, charities and other organisations should use both instinct (as per system one above) and analytical evidence (as per system two above) to get the best outcome. One without the other can lead to some quite horrible results. They should also think about how messages are framed, something Captain Tom did so brilliantly.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll share more real-life examples of how we can communicate our messages with thought to typical human behaviour and, therefore, get better outcomes.