In the past year I’ve been involved with a few projects at Corona that involve evaluating programming for teenagers. One commonality across these projects is that the organizations have been interested in building empathy in teenagers. As I’ve been reading through the literature on empathy, I’ve been thinking about how building empathy should be a goal of most nonprofits.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s research demonstrating that people are more likely to donate when they feel empathy for the recipient. This research builds upon the classic psychology research demonstrating that empathy increases the likelihood of altruism, especially when there are costs to being altruistic. It’s clear that empathy can play an important role in motivating people to give altruistically, but how can we build empathy especially for others who are not very similar to ourselves?

One useful way to build empathy in marketing materials is to create stories that allow people to connect to those who need help or to those who are helping. The idea that organizations should be engaging in storytelling to engage and attract stake holders has been recently promoted. Stories are most powerful when people are able to lose themselves in a character.  This is why reading or seeing a story from the first person perspective can be so powerful.

While you don’t necessarily need research to write an empathy-building story to use in marketing materials, research can provide useful information for creating those stories. Any data or information that you have collected about your donors or your recipients can provide a great foundation for creating a story. And if you develop new, empathy-building marketing materials, you might consider testing the impact of those materials.