The Medium As Important As The Message When Asking For Help

Dan Pink shared a link to a study that was conducted on perceptions of the most effective way to ask others for help comparing face-to-face, audio/phone, video (ie Zoom), and text (SMS, Email).

Previous studies had found that in-person requests were much more effective than requests delivered through other media, (thirty-four times more effective than email in one study), but there had been few studies that included people’s perceptions of how much more effective in-person might be to mediated requests.

The authors conducted two studies. In the first, they had people make requests for help in-person, through audio channels, and video channels. Those asking for a favor made predictions about their ability to get a positive response.  In the second study, in-person was removed and email was added to audio and video channels as an option. (Interestingly, text messaging wasn’t included in the study.)

In both cases, study participants greatly underestimated what the difference the different media would be. They intuited that face-to-face (FtF) would be more successful than a video or audio request, but the margin was much greater than they predicted. Likewise, they intuited a request made over voice or video would be more effective than email, but again the degree was much greater than predicted.

Given the large differences we observed in the effectiveness of FtF compared to mediated requests, and rich media compared to email requests in our behavioral studies, these findings suggest that people fail to fully appreciate the value of asking for help in-person, or in lieu of this possibility, through the richest possible communication medium.

Something to think about as we approach the end of the year donation solicitation season. How we make our appeals may matter more than we think.

Now interestingly, Pink had preceded his tweet about the best way to ask people for a favor with a tweet on a study about the best way to thank people:

In that case, the medium doesn’t matter as much. Though the article he linked to talked about some unexpected nuances about how people engage in the process of expressing appreciation.

“…while people generally expect an in-person thank-you to be most impactful, what happened in reality was quite different: Sending a thank-you over text was almost as impactful as delivering the message in person. Additionally, texting may be especially well-suited for situations where we feel awkward or embarrassed about expressing our appreciation.”


Overall, video calls were just as beneficial as meeting in person. Texting was slightly less effective than video calling—it didn’t make people feel more connected and happy, while video calling did. However, participants who sent their thanks over text still experienced benefits: Texting boosted their well-being and reduced their loneliness compared to the people who wrote about celebrities.


The researchers found that how people expressed gratitude didn’t impact how happy they felt, or how meaningful the experience was to them—nor did it impact how happy they thought the recipient felt. However, people reported that thanking someone in person (as opposed to via text) was slightly more embarrassing.

But Why Do People Want More Diverse, Locally Focused Stories Told?

Last year (December 31, so technically) I had a post on Arts Hacker taking a look at the work LaPlaca Cohen and Slover Linett Audience Research had done interpreting the Covid edition of the CultureTrack survey through the lens of race and ethnicity.

My post focused on the findings which indicated an interest in having arts organizations offer more inclusive and community focused programming that reflect the stories and faces of everyone. There were some interesting findings about how some communities saw arts and cultural organizations as a trusted source of information whereas it was barely on the radar of other communities. Most everyone saw value beyond just fun and entertainment, though those characteristics are highly valued.

This greater emphasis placed by some BIPOC Americans on the social, civic, emotional, therapeutic, and creative-expression roles of cultural participation may help practitioners and funders think more broadly about service and relevance to communities of color during difficult times.

One thing I didn’t address in that post that stood out was a question the researchers raised about why people want a greater diversity of local stories told.

It reminded me that a lot of assumptions are made about the “why,” but no one has really sought out the answers in a deliberative way. The overall conclusion of the report was that the data raised a multitude of questions in need of study. (i.e. surprising Native American affinity for photography and strong digital consumption of classical music by Black/African-Americans.)

It’s worth reflecting on how a desire to celebrate one’s cultural heritage is connected to other desires; people who are interested in celebrating their cultural heritage are also more likely to want arts and culture organizations to feature “more diverse voices and faces,” focus more on local artists and the local community, and offer stories that reflect one’s life — all of which Americans of color are more likely to express than White Americans…Perhaps White Americans don’t think of arts and culture activities or sites as places to do that kind of celebrating — or perhaps they don’t recognize the extent to which some of those activities and sites do, in fact, celebrate and exemplify European cultural heritage. Might Multiracial Americans feel that their backgrounds and identities are too complex or nuanced to be celebrated in the arts? All of this begs for further research into why many people want more diversity, localness, and stories that reflect their experiences and whether they see those things as tied to their — or their community’s — cultural heritage


Plan For An Inclusive Post-Covid Cultural Experience

You’re Invited To My Pool For A Concert

I am sure a lot of people are wondering what other people are doing about performances as you plan for the day you can actually start again. shared a number of images and videos of the way different venues have been spacing both musicians and audiences.

To me the most novel idea and location was a cello concert at the bottom of an empty pool in Germany. Are the acoustics of a pool conducive to the cello range?  There is another article with more pictures from other angles. The lane markers made for good spacing guides and the grade of the floor as it moved toward the shallow end helped with sightlines.

In Hong Kong, they had plexiglass between orchestra members, but in The Netherlands, they had empty seats and dividers to separate audience members.

There are a number of pictures of people arrayed in seating at social distance which may strike many as a bit depressing given the appearance of sparse attendance.

One image I found very striking was that of the London Mozart Players performing in a church. While there was no audience because they were video taping, when I saw all the musicians wearing vibrant red facemasks and bits of red clothing, my first thought was that they really made it work even spaced apart. Granted, some of that is due to good audio and video editing and the ability to zoom in close to the musicians, but for most of the video it is pretty clear everyone is spaced further apart than usual.



Reading Rebranding As “You Aren’t Wanted”

Last month you may have read a number of news stories about the Methodist church in Minnesota with declining attendance that decided to kick out all their old members so they could attract younger members. Except that wasn’t exactly what the church was doing. They just wanted to close the one church for about 18 months in order to do some renovations and rebrand it and were asking members to attend a sister church in the meantime.

The goal definitely was to attract a younger congregation and the new pastor would be about 30 years younger than the current pastor. It sounds like the renovations had the goal of creating spaces in which younger people felt comfortable worshiping.

Shifting all this to the context of arts organizations, there is an eternal conversation about attracting new, younger audiences. However, research shows, arts organizations are actually pretty good at attracting new audiences, but not too good at retaining them so they return with some consistency.

This story about closing and rebranding made me wonder if there is any value in doing so if it makes your organization look more welcoming to a broader range of the community. We know that one of the biggest barriers to participation for people who aren’t already doing so is not seeing themselves and their stories being depicted.

If you were going to pursue closing and rebranding in a similar manner, it would have to encompass more than just freshening up the physical plant with a renovation.  The type of programs the organization offered would need to be revised. Likely the way in which they were delivered might need to be changed. Staff would either need to be retrained and/or new staff hired to deliver on the promises the organization was making.

Is there a good chance that all of this might scare your existing audience away in the same way it is turning off the current congregation of the church? Yep, good chance of that.

In the past I cited a couple of Nina Simon’s talks about providing relevance to the people whom you hope to serve. While she talks about creating metaphorical new doors for people to enter, if you are doing a renovation, you might create physical ones. She notes that it may be difficult for long time supporters to understand that not everything that is being done now is for them, even if nothing has been subtracted to provide experiences for others.

As I wrote:

A new initiative may displace one of regular events. Instead of 10 things designed for you, you only get nine. For a lot of people even 1/10 of a change can result in them feeling the organization is no longer relevant to them. This may especially be true in the case of subscription holders. That one bad grape in ten ruins the value of the whole package.

In this situation it can be a little tricky to say, that’s okay you don’t need to come to that show, we have other discount configurations that may suit your needs. Not only might your delivery of that message be flawed and sound offensive, but even with perfect delivery, the patron may only hear “that’s okay you don’t need to come.”

Even if the new initiatives are additions and don’t displace any of the current offerings, patrons, donors, board members can still feel the organization is no longer the one they value, despite having lost nothing.

Reading the different stories about the church in Minnesota, I got the sense that the current congregants were hearing “that’s okay, you don’t need to come,” in the planned renewal of their church. While that may turn you off of considering making changes for fear of losing what you already have, consider that what you are already doing may be telling a lot more people who have never walked in your door or come once or twice, “that’s okay, you don’t need to come.”

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