I don’t trust you, but…

…”I will for a lottery ticket, or if you show me your business card.”

One surprising lesson from the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project is that providing tiny incentives will dramatically increase a person’s willingness to share a story about a recent event.


In the Kenya 2010 pilot, we offered every person who told a story (and gave us a mobile number to contact them) a chance to win $100. We collected over 2500 stories in 4 months. A few of the scribes told us that some of the people they met would not have given a story without the chance to win.

In 2011, we started out without the $100 prize drawing. It seemed gimmicky. But you know what? People like gimmicks. Scribes once again complained that people they approached for a community story were refusing.

“What’s in it for me?” They would ask.

So we brought back the $100 lottery within the first 2 weeks. People won’t do something for nothing, but they’ll do a lot for a little more.


We recently expanded into Uganda, with the prize drawing offer in place, of course. But communities in Uganda appear to trust other strangers from their own town even less than in Kenya. Today Moses, our new Ugandan Community coordinator for the storytelling project, wrote to me:

Hi Marc,

Scribes requested me to give them some thing to show wherever they go, just in case they are asked who they are and where they come from. Many organizations and  individuals will ask for this. It’s common in Uganda.

They wanted an ID card, which I think is not so fit. Instead, I have designed an introductory letter for them to show if they happen to find those who ask for such.

Here is the introductory letter that enables scribes to be trusted by strangers in Uganda:

 GlobalGiving.org (GG) is a website that connects 1200+ organizations in 110+ countries around the world to individuals for the purpose of fundraising. GG serves non-profit organizations who working in every field, including education, health, women’s empowerment, microfinance, environmental sustainability and many others.

Visit www.GlobalGiving.org for details.

As part of GlobalGiving’s ongoing effort to serve its partners and their communities, GG is collecting thousands of stories from individuals throughout East Africa. GG believes that every effort that a person or organization makes to help someone or change a community for the better is an important story – and one that can help others when shared. GG will find ways to give these stories back to organizations, and anyone who wants them. GG is also experimenting with new ways to make sense of these stories using SenseMaker® software. All stories will be available online at http://www.globalgiving.org.

The purpose of this letter is to introduce you to Mr/Mrs……………………………….. who is collecting stories on behalf of GG in this area. Occasionally, we will invite you to join feedback meetings where you can discover what all these stories have to say about the efforts that are happening around you.

Any assistance rendered to him/her is highly appreciated.

Yours in service,

Moses Kigozi, GlobalGiving Country Coordinator, Uganda.

So in Uganda, some people will not trust a stranger enough to share a story about a community effort that everyone probably knows about, unless he presents an introductory letter from another stranger: GlobalGiving.

I find this fascinating, even if it seems a bit unreliable as a method of vetting.


At least they trust strangers more than Somalians. In talking recently with expat Americans who deal with problems in Somalia, I learned that the different Somali tribes force a stranger to recite his lineage going back 20 generations at gun point to prove he is part of the same tribe. The different tribes cannot tell each other apart visually, and all admit that they are descended from brothers who formed clans 20 generations ago, but the lines between tribes are sharply drawn. If a stranger makes a mistake in reciting his oral history going back hundreds of years, they might shoot him on the spot. This is the reality of a war zone.

However if you succeed, they will treat you like a member of the family and lay their lives down for you. I was thinking, if you could memorize all the lineages of the various tribal factions, then you not only survive, but thrive as a constant impostor. One “invisible tribe” in Somalia does this to survive.

apple-bullet-pointWorld Bank

Jennifer of How-Matters alerted me to a similar story at the World Bank blog. They wanted to promote entrepreneurship, and offered a free breakfast to business owners who came in to learn about the program.

“Of the 377 folks invited to the first three events, only 61 showed up.  Of those entrepreneurs, only 18 signed up as clients.”

They learned that most entrepreneurs were skeptical of government delivering them any useful training. They changed the intervention. People were more willing to listen as long as it was convenient, and they didn’t have to leave their place of work.

Now, the field staff approach entrepreneurs during the survey. Uptake is higher. We’re being proactive – which is not what the government had in mind originally.

In this program people trusted the agency, but had little faith that the program would be worth their time. In the other examples, people simply didn’t trust the agent. In every example, a modest incentive (or convenience) changes everything.

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