Charities and the Need for Emotional Connection: Introducing Connection Compass

connection compass

Charities are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand the donor base is shrinking and acquisition of new donors is getting more expensive. On the other hand, the need for help is increasing.

A growing divide between rich and poor is putting added pressure on providers in the developed world. At the same time, wars and conflicts have sparked a global refugee crisis and fan the flames of famine on the international stage.

Right now there are over 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world—the equivalent of the entire population of the UK being homeless. That’s a number that overwhelms our ability to comprehend.

In fact, the sheer magnitude of the crisis has the paradoxical effect of diminishing our compassion. The reality is that humans are wired to respond to individuals, not groups. As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our willingness to help decreases. Psychologists call it “psychic numbing” and “compassion fade”.

Emotional connections and Alan Kurdi

There is also a large body of research that reveals that emotional connections drive donating. This often involves a donor relating to an “iconic individual”. The sad death of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi is an example of how this works.

Psychologist Paul Slovic and colleagues studied how the iconic photo of the little boy’s body lying face-down on a Turkish beach impacted donating. That image was viewed by more than 20 million people on social media alone.

The death toll in the Syrian crisis started even before Alan was born, and a conservative estimate put the toll at a total of 250,000 people killed by the time of his death. In Sweden they had been taking in about 40,000 Syrian refugees a month, just before the photo appeared. The Swedish Red Cross started a campaign to support the refugees roughly a month before the photo of Alan was published and donations were modest. The photo of Alan changed everything.

The researchers found “The mean number of daily donations during the week after publication of the photo was more than 100-fold greater compared with the week before”. They concluded “these data illustrate the iconic victim effect. The photograph of a single identified individual captured the attention of people and moved them to take interest and provide aid in ways that were not motivated by statistics of hundreds of thousands of deaths.” [1] This is in stark contrast to how charities have used the faces of victims to make donors feel guilty and donate – it’s all about how the images are used to foster the connection at a very personal level.

Connection Compass: providing direction on emotional connections

Connection Compass is our proprietary syndicated approach to measuring how donors and prospects are emotionally connected with your organization. It is a new way of thinking about donor acquisition and a must have tool for any charity looking to grow. The Compass reveals what is driving your donations and how you are positioned relative to your fellow charities, on the attributes that matter.

We had three goals in developing Connection Compass. We wanted to:

  1. See how you rate on the variables that are most predictive of giving—focusing on emotional connection.
  2. Understand how people’s perceptions of what a charity does—their impact—shapes that sense of connectedness.
  3. Develop ongoing tracking attributes which are concise, reliable and efficient.

In developing Connection Compass, we achieved those goals, validated the tool and collected valuable information on prominent charities from across North America. Once you subscribe, your organization will be automatically included.

To learn more about Connection Compass and how it can help your charity grow your donor base by strengthening emotional connections, download our whitepaper, Connection Compass: How Emotional Connections Drive Donation , or contact us.

Download the Whitepaper


  1. ‘Plain old untrendy troubles and emotions‘, P. Slovic, D. Västfjälla, A Erlandsson and R. Gregory, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, January 2017