The Hidden Brain & Generosity

Ashley Hansen

Me: “I’m going to hear Shankar Vedantam speak!”

Friend: “Who’s that?”  

Me: “What?” I take a deep breath. “You don’t know who he is? He’s the host of ‘The Hidden Brain’ on NPR.”


I’m clearly a big fan and I proceed to tell my friend why they should listen to Hidden Brain, which is a podcast that dives into unconscious patterns that drive our behavior, but inside I’m still a little kid, jumping for joy at the anticipation that I get to hear him live at a conference!


One of my favorite things about attending the Bridge Conference every summer is the inspiring speakers that they have. A few years ago I heard Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” Last year I was in tears listening to Liz Murray tell her story of going from “Homeless to Harvard”. And this year, my 8th time attending Bridge, I got to hear a public radio personality that I regularly listen to.


Since Shankar’s talk was such a highlight for me, I wanted to share some of his key messages with you:

  • Being generous to others makes us happy. This seems obvious especially to those of us focused on nonprofit work, but glad to know it’s backed by research.  Shankar gave the example of toddlers showing greatest happiness when they share food. I’ve definitely been on the receiving side of snacks from toddlers!
  • There are two different kind of fundraising pitches that when used separately are effective, but when combined decrease response rate. There is the egoistic pitch “alumni report that giving makes them feel good”. And the altruistic pitch “giving is your chance to make a difference in the lives of students, faculty and staff.” When each pitch was used individually, they had the same response rate. But, when used together it confuses the message and causes a 50% drop in response rate.
  • Giving is an emotional process. When people feel happy, they give more! Therefore, evoke happy feelings to get your donors to give more. He gave the example of playing an upbeat song before asking people to donate outperforming showing people a video of an MIT lecture on electricity and magnetism.
  • A force more powerful than our own beliefs is what other people think. Following the social norm of what other people think is more likely to drive behavior than what we think ourselves. Research shows that it’s unpopular to go outside of social norms. Therefore when talking to donors, he said it’s more powerful to say what people are doing instead of what they aren’t. For example, instead of saying “people aren’t giving to public media”, communicate who IS donating.
  • Share the story of 1 person. He shared the example of two swimmers out at sea needing to be rescued, but the person was told they can only save one of them. When that happens, it makes it difficult for them to save one life because they are so focused on saving both. Similarly, if you tell people that there are 1 Million people hungry, people feel that the problem is unsolvable and don’t donate. We can’t emotionally connect to many people at the same time.
  • We’ve been hearing about the effectiveness of storytelling for years. In case you’re still getting your organization on board, we now have several examples as to why you need to jump on. In closing Shankar told us a story that he tells in his book, “The Hidden Brain,” about a dog that was rescued from a Taiwanese tanker. Tens of thousands of dollars were donated to the Hawaiian Humane Society to save the dog. The dog was eventually rescued and was all over the news because it was easy to focus on.
  • Shankar Vedantam closed his talk by asking us: “what story allows your donor to place themselves in the shoes of the people your organization helps?”



While Shankar Vedantam from Hidden Brain gave us tips on sparking generosity amongst donors, we know this can’t happen without keeping an eye on the bigger picture. And you can’t see the big picture without accurate data. Frakture’s Bots kept working tirelessly to keep our client’s data flowing.


  • Are you running reports manually?
  • Do you spend hours in excel getting your data to look the way you want it?
  • Do you have a problem with duplicate records and capitalization errors?
  • Do you wish your processes were automated?


If so, let’s talk and we’ll get Frakture Bots working for you, so you have more time to analyze the data rather than spending all your time gathering it.

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Contact us for a demo today and learn how Frakture can help your organization to get more done with robots