Blog reader Claudia recently passed on to me a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, which was reported in Science Daily. Before I get into the study, let me refresh your memory about a very important concept: the identifiable victim effect. The idea is, the larger the number of people in need, the less compelled donors are to help. This may not be rational but it sure is human. When humans hear about one identifiable victim, we care more than when we hear about millions. We tend to donate more when we feel we are helping an identified, single individual. (This is called the singularity effect.) So what happens when we talk about people in need as members of a group? For starters I can tell you it’s usually not as powerful as talking about one person – as long as the donor can relate to that person. But if you do talk about a group, it can be good or bad for fundraising.According to the study in the Journal of Consumer Research, Robert W. Smith (University of Michigan), David Faro (London Business School), and Katherine A. Burson (University of Michigan) found that groups of people in need who seem unified inspire funding more quickly. For example, donations to help poor children were higher when the children were described as members of the same family.But in contrast, groups that may not be viewed positively discouraged giving. For example: “A study asked consumers to make donations to benefit child prisoners with poor living conditions. Those who read about the child prisoners that seemed unified had more negative judgments and gave them less money than those who read about the non-unified but otherwise identical child prisoners.”So group membership is good when we are talking about a tightly knit, sympathetic set of people – e,g, a family – but not when we’re talking about shared negative traits clustered in a group – e.g., a gang.My take is that the best stories – and appeals – have one protagonist. But there may be times when you need to talk about a group – be it a community, a family or a refugee camp. When you do, make sure you choose the type of group wisely. Donors are paying attention more than you may realize.