17 Aug Stop Leaning on Numbers to Tell Your Story
17 August 2021
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Consider the following two paragraphs:
The Conservancy celebrated the opening of its 9th nature preserve on Saturday with a brief ceremony and ribbon-cutting. At 264 acres, the Sykes Ridge Preserve is now the Conservancy’s largest preserve. It is home to at least 4 rosy-cheeked warbler nesting pairs each year and beloved to the nearly 2,000 annual birding visitors.
The Conservancy celebrated the opening of its most recent nature preserve on Saturday with a brief ceremony and ribbon-cutting. The Sykes Ridge Preserve is now the Conservancy’s largest preserve. It is home to rosy-cheeked warbler nesting pairs each year and beloved to hundreds of annual birding visitors.
The second version is written to eliminate all the numbers. Why would you want to do that?
Because numbers are essentially meaningless, and removing them changes the emphasis in each sentence to words that help the reader feel. And that will help you communicate more effectively with members and donors.
The two paragraphs look the same to the writer, but are received differently.
- Instead of focusing on 9th, the emphasis becomes “celebrated.”
- Instead of focusing on 264 acres, the emphasis becomes “largest.” (And few people know what an acre is anyway.)
- Instead of focusing on 4 and 2,000, the emphasis becomes “home” and “beloved.”
Numbers are intellectually appealing to us because we have context for them. A ninth preserve might be important because of how long it has taken to complete the project, or perhaps because few other local land trusts have that many. 264 acres sounds enormous, but only to people living in the East. And even elsewhere, 264 acres might be critically important if they connect two much larger pieces. Four could be compared with none or with twenty.
The point is that the numbers, by themselves, don’t communicate anything of any real value. Breathing value into them through explanation wastes energy and distracts from more important messaging: celebrated, largest, home, beloved.
Yet we do it all the time. There are counters on our websites. There are numbers in our newsletters, email, and fundraising letters.
Here’s the lead paragraph from a well-respected land trust. I’ve obscured their identity, but that took the changing of just two words. With only slightly different numbers, this could describe any number of land trust organizations across the county.
Land Trust was founded in 1992 by three visionary leaders and 31 Charter Members. The Trust is a respected local organization and is recognized as an innovative leader in conservation. The staff, board members, and 400 active volunteers are joined by over 1,700 family and business supporters (members) to protect the most important and beloved places in the county. Today, the amount of land and habitat protected by the Trust has grown to over 8,000 acres, including more than 40 miles of shoreline. The Trust is currently working on a dozen new projects under the guidance of a Conservation Strategy that helps protect the best, most at-risk, and beloved lands first.
Why do we do this? To some extent, I think we’re just lazy. We look at paragraphs without numbers and they look plain. We believe that adding numbers somehow adds weight and importance.
And here’s the thing – it does add weight and importance for some. And leaning on numbers to tell our story tends to attract people to us for whom this kind of communication works.
But it doesn’t work for everyone. And the ones we’re missing are increasingly the ones we need. Being more relevant in our communities means being able to communicate more effectively with everyone.
As an exercise, consider asking a volunteer to go through printed copied of every communications piece you have produced in the last several years and highlight all the numbers. Consider that this might be a good job for a new Board member (fresh eyes and perspective).
Now look holistically at the result.
Can you find a better way to tell your story?
Cheers, and Have a great week!
PS: Celebrate finding a new home for your beloved largest numbers! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
PPS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
Photo by Marina Fuchs courtesy of Pixabay.