Hope not hopeless

Written by
Charlie Hulme
Added
April 03, 2012

Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blest.

Alexander Pope.

View original image
How could this devastating flood in Pakistan, which killed thousands and thousands of people, receive scant attention from media and public alike?

There are countless examples throughout history, but if we ever needed contemporary proof that our natural response to human suffering is not measured or proportional it happened over the space of just a few weeks in 2010.

The United Nations rated the floods in Pakistan as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history. More people were affected than the 2004 South East Asian tsunami and the earthquakes in both Kashmir and Haiti combined.

View original image
The plight of the miners in Chile had us all gripped for 52 weeks.

Hope.

What little coverage the flood in Pakistan did receive focused on the overwhelming scale of faceless despair. There was no sense anything could be done; the victims were doomed. We looked away with a familiar feeling of resigned hopelessness.

Contrast that with the sense of drama with which we avidly followed the minute-by-minute coverage of the Chilean miners. Their plight wasn’t a ‘story’ when they were simply trapped, but the moment a probe found they were still alive it was an international sensation. For 52 days we were gripped with the cliffhanger suspense: the first handwritten note from a borehole, the messages of love to their families, endless theories of rescue scenarios.

Hope mirrors our desire and we actively seek it.

(A few weeks later 29 miners in New Zealand died anonymously.)

Hope mirrors our desire and we actively seek it. Despair mirrors our worst fears and we do all we can to hide from it.

There is a clear takeaway for us here – focus on what can be done and people take action; focus on can’t and asking for help seems pointless.

If our story’s main focus is on the problem then people are left with the feeling that there’s nothing they can do. If we place our greatest emphasis on the solution we’re giving them a clear, achievable goal and the ‘warm glow’ that comes from feeling they can make a difference.

Despair mirrors our worst fears and we do all we can to hide from it.

The moral implications of why we respond to hope and not to despair matters less to us as fundraisers than accepting the fact that we do. As the comedian and satirist Lenny Bruce said, ‘There is no what should be, there is only what is.’

There’s an ironic flip side of our inertia in the face of large numbers, which we’ll look at next time.

There is hope…

About the author: Charlie Hulme

Charlie Hulme

Charlie Hulme is managing director of DonorVoice. He helps charities uncover what, of all the things they do, improves the strength of relationships  and what is harmful. Partners see a massive improvement in performance, value and retention.

Voted top speaker at the Institute of Fundraising’s National Convention in 2013, he writes frequently for SOFII, 101fundraising, the Institute of Fundraising and many others.

Related case studies or articles

People not numbers: emotion not reason

This is the first article on SOFII's new storytelling series.

Read more

The truth about storytelling: leaders not followers

Charlie’s final article in his series on telling stories might surprise you and may even make you laugh out loud.

Read more

Do we really need another book on storytelling? Part 2

Click here to see more thoughts and opinions on Ken Burnett’s Storytelling can change the world from Bethan Francis in the UK and Rory Green in Canada. Just a little trailer: you can’t make important change if you aren’t an expert teller of stories.

Read more

How much is a good story worth?

How much is a good story worth to a fundraiser? A lot says Michael Rosen. Here he gives you seven ideas on how you can make your stories powerful tools to raise lots more money for your organisation.

Read more

Do we really need another book on storytelling?

An important new book about storytelling is given a special review from not just one, not just two but three of the UK's most eminently qualified reviewers.

Read more

Want to get inside your donor's brain? Try storytelling

Emotional storytelling keeps popping up on SOFII and rightly so given its importance to fundraisers everywhere. Here we have the introduction and the first article in a series SOFII will be publishing in coming weeks on the art of storytelling, from Charlie Hulme of telemarketing agency Pell & Bales. If you care about catching your donor’s interest and imagination, read on here.

Read more

Technology and storytelling: seeking support with multiple channels

This article by Richard McPherson, questions how well fundraisers have transferred the power of storytelling and communication to direct mail, phone calls and emails. What do you think?

Read more

Richard Turner’s great story

Richard Turner's advice for all fundraisers is to have a great story to tell. And the place to start looking for it is among all the people who benefit from the cause you fundraise for.

Read more