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What’s in a face?

Do you ever wonder what you can tell about a person from the way they look? Recently, I’ve been assisting with some donor research for a major campaign. When gathering information, photographs invariably come into the mix. This got me wondering – what can you discern from the way your donor looks?

If I were to take the advice of my mother, the answer would surely be ‘a good deal.’ I grew up listening to my mum during the evening news tell me all about people from the way they looked. ‘I don’t like that man; he has a nasty mouth.’ (I don’t really want to admit it but I tended to agree his mouth wasn’t born out of happy street).

It seems my mum isn’t the only one who uses mouths and eyes as a indication of personality. As I collate the research together and a new image appears, I hear comments from colleagues like ‘he looks friendly’, ‘she’s like my grandma’, or ‘oh… I’m not sure about calling him, he looks cranky.’

Snoop: what your staff says about youSo I delved into my bookshelf and unearthed a copy of Snoop: what your stuff says about you. I acquired this book more than 2 years ago now. It seems that since then the author Sam Gosling has acquired a PhD and the book has been re-released with a new lime green finish.

I remember buying it. It was the first paragraph on the back which caught my attention:

What does your desk reveal about your personality? What about the books you own or the pictures on your wall? And what’s the best way to find out what your new partner is really like?

It was the desk comment which did it for you see, comments on my desk are not uncommon. Many a colleague has remarked that they don’t understand me and my desk. My messy desk does not fit with all their other perceptions. ‘How can you be so meticulous with your data but have a desk like that?’ This one is almost as common as ‘How can you work with numbers all day long yet you can create art like that?’ (For my answer explaining the two can co-exist see: Data and Creativity.)

Would Snoop reveal to me the mystery of my messy desk? (I’m not sure whether it solved the mystery but Gosling himself admits to a mess of a desk and he seems to have some street cred when it comes to analytics so I’ll take that as proof that a messy desk does not spell the end of my analytical career).

But back to donors and their faces. Gosling for the most part focuses on physical environments, however he does talk about some research he conducted where he asked students to 

rate people’s personalities just from looking at photographs of them. Considering they have nothing more than a still photo to go on, our observers… were surprisingly accurate at judging others’ levels of extraversion, agreeableness, and openness.

So it would seem if on viewing a photograph of a donor I see them as creative or unconventional, this can be a valid way of determining they are a person high in openness.

My next line of thinking is whether we can do anything with that? I tend to think perhaps we can.

If people who are high on openness like playing with new ideas, trying new activities and challenging traditional thought, then I’m sure that in turn can influence which programs they may want to financially support. Alternatively, if I’m seeing photographs of donors who appear relaxed and cheerful, then assuming that they may be high on agreeableness is apparently ok. And I’m sure that fundraisers are looking for people high agreeableness since they “tend to be helpful, selfless, sympathetic, kind, forgiving, trusting and considerate.”

He doesn’t say much about people with nasty mouths though. I must tell my mother that.