by Julian Lambertin
January 7th, 2016

The factors that make human beings decide to buy one thing and not another are incredibly complex. As anyone who has ever done an online search or used social media can attest, we mostly don’t click on brands’ “targeted” advertising. This is partly why we developed the Science of Engagement in the first place.

Yet getting someone to buy something is a piece of cake compared to getting them to commit to a cause. Long-term engagement in something that is not an integral part of our everyday lives is a different story.

Over the past two years, we’ve been using the Science of Engagement model to discover more about what makes us volunteer, donate or share information.

Every day we read about the challenges for those who have to live in poverty. There has been much hopeful and positive coverage of the UN’s 17 Global Goals to address the huge challenges of eradicating extreme poverty and ending climate change, but sometimes the scale of human tragedy makes it seem as if all our efforts in global development are in vain. Yet that is not true.

Bad news might make the headlines, but powerful communication is not about column inches: it is about positively effecting change in peoples’ lives. This might sound a little lofty but, being in the media business, we know just how true it is.

So how can we help people see the struggles of those who need to make do with a lot less, and how can we convey the progress we have made and continue to make through their support? In short: how do we engage the public in global development?

Our first takeaway is that engagement needs to be captured before it can be built. Our license to address others comes from our reputation. If we act with integrity, we gain the right of passage. Respect towards those who help us to help others is the key.

The more we can be transparent in our communication and the harder we strive to act responsibly, the easier it is to ask for people’s resources, whether that’s their time, their network of family and friends or their money.

This is hard enough, but still earns us no more than the right to speak and be heard. Whether people will step into action is determined by two further factors.

Our second insight goes back to the second Principle of engagement: it requires reciprocity. Global development is as much about those who give as it is about those who receive. Why? Because when we give, we receive back. When charitable organisations listen to their volunteers and supporters, we feel understood. The focus moves beyond creating awareness for a cause, to making a personal connection that resonates with the audience.

This can be strengthened by shared experiences. The more we allow those who want to engage to do so together, the more they will discover a joint purpose. That purpose will make their engagement sustainable. We win long-term supporters.

Our third takeaway is that engagement needs to be directed. It’s a finite resource. Figuring out what is right can be difficult. There are many worthy causes and inspiring organisations out there, doing important work. Again, joint purpose is the key to this. It is best expressed through shared values. Organisations who manage to collaborate are more attractive than others.

But telling is not showing. What is required is active engagement. Collaboration needs to be matched with a clear call to action. If the call to action offers an opportunity that is personally rewarding, pulling us a little out of our comfort zone by allowing us to experience something new, that’s where engagement happens.

Suddenly the idea that we can help to improve the lives of people in poor countries faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history doesn’t seem quite so lofty.

This article first appeared here on the Weber Shandwick EMEA blog.

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