Imagine you’re sitting at home watching the telly and you hear a crackling noise from the kitchen. You look over your shoulder and your worst fears are realised – you’ve forgotten to turn the gas off. There’s a fire. Thick grey smoke is pouring under the door and you can feel the heat on your face.
What would you do next?
Please, make a list. Do it below. I’d be delighted to hear it.
But I’ll bet that, if this ever happens to you (God forbid), your list will bear very little relation to what you’d actually do. That’s the gap between intention and action, and it’s massive.
It’s massive because your response while you’re reading this blog post is entirely different from how you’d react with the smell of burning ceiling tiles in your nostrils.
Of course it is.
Nevertheless, we expect that people’s responses in surveys and focus groups will closely correlate with their actual attitudes and behaviour.
But they don’t.
Because people don’t say what they think. And they don’t do what they say.
(If they did, I’d be out of a job, because, for instance, most people claim never to respond to direct mail.)
Like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, asking the question changes the answer. And I can promise you that when a charity asks you a question, it changes the answer even more. Do you really want to come across like the mean, shallow, self-absorbed nebbish you are? Of course you don’t.
So when a charity asks you whether you’d be more likely to respond to a positive message or a negative one, you’ll tick ‘positive’ because that makes you feel better, and it’s the answer you think they want to hear. And because you’re being asked a sensible, rational question in a sensible, rational way.
And when that positive message arrives on your doormat, inbox or newspaper, you’ll ignore it.
Because you’re like everyone else – you don’t know how you’ll react in an emotionally charged, impulsive situation (like a house fire). The kinds of situations in which most giving decisions happen.
People say they prefer positive messages. They say they prefer to be inspired into giving. They say they don’t like “doom & gloom”. They say they don’t like to be thanked. They say all kinds of things.
But I don’t care what they say. I care what they do. And so should you.