How peer pressure birthed a hundred million dollar gala night

The masters to the art of practical storytelling

“pay as you wish” jar

We slowly develop the habit of aligning our core values with other humans until it became an intuition. And as we grow through the ocean of the ages, it gets even stronger, soiling itself amidst our deepest insecurities. Hence, all the stories we believe in from when we were kids to date carry a similar notion.

This is the same for a villager scouring to feed his livestock in the darkest of the forest as it is for a hedge fund billionaire in Wall Street. Behind the Dior suits and fancy neckties and sexy rides is our hope for an arbitrary validation that spun out of identifying with others. We love to belong.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of storytelling for marketers then, hoping to sell their idea, is the flexibility of saying things without really saying them. It is incorporating even the most paramount bit of the stories we tell others in how we tell it… and without necessarily uttering it.

The right approach — tone, imagery, or even timing — can yield satisfying results. In fundraising campaigns, we can do better. Practical storytelling, leveraging on peer pressure, to be more specific, gives the perfect window to employ that.

In May of 2015, the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York City-based charitable organization, managed to raise more than a hundred million dollars in a single gala-night. It took charity fundraising campaigns a step further, setting the bar really high. As you might have guessed, that wasn’t using a conventional method.

In an interview with Bloomberg, David Saltzman, the co-founder of Robin Hood Foundation, recounted his view of how the night began: “Paul Jones set the pace, then we’ve got extraordinary people who follow.”

Business Insider captioned the night best: “A bunch of celebrities and hedge fund billionaires raised $101 million at an exclusive NYC fundraiser.” And that is not clickbaity at all.

It wasn’t about pitching those hedge fund managers and celebrities and high figures that attended the event against each other, but it was, in fact, the opposite. The foundation simply set the bait (with Paul Jones, apparently) and waited for its audience to fight and maintain their place in their circles.

For every one that witnessed the night, there reached a point when the donations ceased to be about making donations anymore.

The fact that people are unreasonably selfish is perhaps one of the marketing acuities that should be carved on a stone, reserving the wisdom behind it by making it a classic. “If you’re seeking to raise money for a charity,” says Seth Godin in his book This is Marketing and as an example, “someone who donates a hundred or a thousand dollars is only going to do it if they get more value than it costs them to donate.”

This is precisely what Robin Hood Foundation capitalized on.

The need to belong can powerfully influence our behavior and being unaware of it doesn’t make it any less true. An even more compelling takeaway in this story is recognizing that the same pattern can be applied in a variety of fundraising campaigns (charity or not).

Examine the content of any successful fundraising campaign page you’ve ever come across, for instance, and you’ll see that it is geared to excite you into thinking that people like you donated, compelling you to want to maintain your status in your circle.

Do not just get others to merely sympathize with your cause. To get people to open their wallets (or swipe their cards), diving deeper into this often abandoned desire of humans to feel identified with others works wonders.

“Someone who donates a hundred or a thousand dollars is only going to do it if they get more value than it costs them to donate.”

Let this value be the status they maintain — an affirmation to the stories they tell themselves about their position in a particular circle. Niche down, set the pace, and extraordinary people will always follow.

Final Thought

People can feel the pain of others — pain empathy they called it. To date, one of the most effective ways to handle our traumas isn’t by facing it bullheaded, alone, but by reminding ourselves over and over again that other people feel this too.

We long to remain a part of a clique or employ a lifestyle greater than ourselves because we believe it is what makes us who are. We always strive towards this, we and everybody else. Every day.

Marketing endeavors always require confronting others with making everyday decisions and the success of these decisions are, to a greater extent, dependent on how well we can devise ways to help make our audience feel more connected, compacted, the bond in their circle strengthened. There has never been a better avenue to employ this than in getting them to donate to a cause.

Marketing and startups, especially when there is a touch of tech, are things I adore. Everything I publish is worth your time. I promise.

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