Firstly, this blog does not apply only to Zoom but is generally addressing what might become a serious issue with all video-calling interfaces when considering supporter engagement.
This blog was triggered by my experience of feeling knackered after a daily dose of five hours+ on four “virtual” days running.
As the pandemic continues with no real end in sight, I wonder what effect the “virtual” experience will have on fundraisers, let alone supporters?
After all, a virtual meeting is so easy for supporters: no travel, minimal time and effort and a real bonus for those not mobile enough to come to an event for the charity they love.
I still experience total fascination listening to donors “virtually” either one to one or in focus groups. But the experience is different and far more tiring:
- The interaction is between the host and the attendees NOT between all the attendees
- You cannot see the body language of all everyone. Eye, face and hand movements are harder to interpret
- Muting/unmuting, and those who refuse to turn on the camera, complicate issues
- Virtual meetings are far less of an experience because the attendees are at home. You could argue the experience is severely limiting unless the host is brilliant.
You can also argue (which is why I still enjoy virtual meetings) that the exchange of views triggers great brain input but you have to be truly on the ball and inquisitive. Otherwise it will be deeply tiring,
The biggest issue is one of exhaustion
I have three main concerns before I give you the latest evidence from recent empirical research.
- The best donors and legacy prospects are over 55. Many are self-isolating and desperate to be part of any community activity. This results in a lot of virtual activity – may be too much.
- Many fundraisers are, in my experience, finding home working more convenient but lacking team engagement and motivation from their colleagues.
- Constant interruptions (dogs, cats, children, other halves and on one occasion for me – a fox trying to catch our free range chickens) do not help!
As a constant “virtual user” I find the concentration powers needed to absolutely ensure supporter and client satisfaction far more exhausting than face to face focus groups.
I will happily do three or four focus groups a day face to face. Adrenalin is going and outcomes are truly fascinating. Virtual groups are fine and with good results but lack that inspirational interaction which triggers “out of the box” ideas. Each group is better than no engagement but the effort required to be successful fascinates me (and exhausts me – but that is what I am paid for!).
But hold on, do we consider the virtual experience for supporters?
Do we really know how long they can stay engaged “virtually”? In my experience it is 30-45 minutes and not two hours. Do we want exhausted supporters who want to sleep at the end of a “meeting”?
Do they feel a real kick of contributing to the group?
99.9% of those I meet face to face feel exhilarated having been asked their views. And at the end of the group they have a chat with the fundraiser, stay engaged. valued and fascinated.
Is it the same virtually? NO, they turn off their iPad/laptop/phone and get on with their daily routines. Yes. They might chat to their other half or friends about the experience but it is “not the same”.
On April 15th 2020, a religious studies professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania immediately fell asleep in the guest bedroom doubling as her office following a virtual meeting. She said that while teaching is always exhausting, she has never “conked out” like that before. It triggered interesting research.
Andrew Franklin an assistant professor of cyberpsychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University says he thinks people may be surprised at how multi-person screens magnify the “exhausting problem”. The gallery view—where all meeting participants appear —challenges the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once so that no one comes through meaningfully, not even the speaker.
Think of how hard it would be to cook and read at the same time. That is the kind of multi-tasking your brain is trying, and often failing, to navigate in a group video chat according to Franklin.
This leads to problems in which group video chats become less collaborative and more like siloed panels, in which only two people at a time talk while the rest listen. Because each participant is using one audio stream and is aware of all the other voices, parallel conversations are impossible. If you view a single speaker at a time, you can’t recognise how non-active participants are behaving—something you would normally pick up with peripheral vision in a focus group.
To quote Franklin “For some people, the prolonged split in attention creates a perplexing sense of being drained while having accomplished nothing. The brain becomes overwhelmed by unfamiliar excess stimuli while being hyper-focused on searching for non-verbal cues that it can’t find,”.
The future for great supporter engagement
That is why a traditional phone call may be less taxing on the brain, Franklin says, because it delivers on a small promise: to convey only a voice.
Voices in fundraising are the key to success so maybe we should re-focus our attention on the good old telephone and not video conferencing.
Every call I have made with supporters has been a joy. A relatively superficial joy compared to spending two hours with them, but a joy with no tiredness.
Let’s zoom in on the telephone.