So, what’s your earliest memory? While you’re thinking about that (although I’m really interested, honest), let me tell you about mine.
I must have been two going on three, and we were moving into our new family home. I remember it so clearly. As we stood in the hallway, my father turned to my mother and said “Let’s paint it white everywhere, like a hospital!”
Extraordinary, isn’t it? You can’t move in my blog without my comparing aspects of the charity sector to various random things like marshmallows, yoga, and underpants, and here we are: my very first memory is my father uttering a simile! You couldn’t make it up.
What makes an experience memorable?
Three things make an experience particulary stand out in the memory: attention, emotion and novelty.
And my ‘new house’ experience (I can’t remember anything about the first place I lived in, just the day we moved) captures two of these three in spades. Emotions (nerves, excitement) would have been running high in my parents and older siblings, and this little toddler will have picked up on that. And the novelty aspect is clearly well covered, both in terms of the new house, but also in my father saying something that I must have found completely weird.
Our most distinct memories are unique
And this is where I cunningly relate it back to the charity sector. Is there anyone else in the world whose first memory is hearing his father talking about decorating the house to look like a hospital? I seriously doubt it.
And yet, as charities we’re in danger of churning out experiences for our supporters that are far from unique. We spend too much time copying each other, and end up acting alike. This is known as institutional isomorphism, and to my mind it’s a huge risk to the sector.
If we innovate, if we take some risks, we will help to create memories. Take this Barnardo’s advertisement, which is as fresh in my mind as when I first saw it, some 20 years ago. As an image, it amply covers that golden trio of attention, emotion, and novelty, doesn't it?
You see, if there’s nothing in our interaction with them that properly grabs their attention, that brings out heightened emotion, or that is genuinely novel to them, I’m afraid to say that they won’t remember us. We will lose them.
And it is these strong memories that we engender that will lead to our supporters’ loyalty.
OK, so you’ve had enough time now. What’s your earliest memory, and does it encompass at least one of this golden trio? I bet it does.
And I wonder if it competes with my father talking like an early seventies anti-Mick-Jagger. There I go with the similes again. I wonder where I get it from.
I see a red door and I want it painted white.
No colours anymore, I want them to turn white.