photo of 3 cambodian boys posing for the camera by Humanitarian Photographer Bryon Lippincott

With all the crazy things going on in the world recently I have been thinking about how we relate to two conflicting ideas, hope and fear. How we relate to them personally and how we should (or shouldn’t) be using them in humanitarian and nonprofit marketing.

Everywhere we turn we are confronted with things that have the ability to cause us to be fearful. I have long believed that stories provoking fear drive more profits in the news and information world than any other type of stories.

I think the reason for this is quite simple, fear lingers. Fear lingers in each of our minds and hearts and it is almost impossible to completely eradicate fear from our lives. If we are honest with ourselves there is a going on in the world that is worthy fear.

Fear leaves these little roots in our lives that are always there, ready to grow with the smallest reminder that all is not right in the world. News and information organizations have figured out that by hinting at our fears in headlines and teasers, we will more often click on the headline or sit down and watch the news in order to confirm our darkest fears.

Fear causes inaction and indecision, especially if our fear is not a direct threat but just a possible outcome in our lives. We don’t want to do anything to bring our fear to life and we don’t know how to exorcise it from our mind so we do nothing and let it do what it does best, linger.

Hope on the other hand inspires action, If we hope we will win a prize we will enter the contest, compete in the race or buy a lottery ticket. If we hope to get a date with someone interesting we will muster up the courage to ask for that date.

Hope is a positive, forward moving, contagious force in our lives that gives life, energy and meaning to our existence. People throughout history have endured all manner of less than ideal situations because they had hope that things would be better for them or others on the other side of the experience.

So how does this relate to humanitarian and non profit marketing?

So often in the humanitarian world it is easy to think that if we can just show the people back home how bad the situation is that they will be inspired to fix the problem. They will immediately give money or volunteer to join the work on the ground. But the reality is that often people cannot get over the fear that the reality of the situation creates.

Fears that they may run out of money and end up in a similar situation, that even if they give money that nothing will change. Once a little fear sets in with it comes indecision and inaction. The results of our big marketing push to raise money that is based on fear are often that it will create a larger number of people who know about the problem but cannot move past their lingering fear to a place of action.

The flip side of this equation is showing hope. If we can show our audience that it is possible for people to overcome and get out of the bad situation. When we plant seeds of hope we help them turn their back on the lingering fears. Stories of people hoping for a better life and achieving it push our audience toward action, because hope sells.

Hope sells us that new car that we think will make us feel more successful, the new computer that will make us more productive, the new clothes that will make us feel more confident. Hope sells us most of the things we buy, we just don’t realize it because it is packaged in lots of different containers that inspire us to make purchases.

Sharing stories of hope with our audience brings energy and life to the equation. It allows us to give a gift to our audience rather than just ask and receive. Everyone needs more hope in their lives, hope is contagious. The more we are able to inspire hope in those who hear our message the more they will spread our message for us because it feels good. Hope pushes that lingering fear back into its dark corner and reminds us that we really enjoy the light and energy that hope brings to our lives and those around us

So if we as humanitarian organizations and non profits want to further our causes and inspire people to help us make the world a better place we would do well to remember that “Fear lingers, but hope sells.”

Photo with link to sharingdots.org