Most fundraisers emphasize — rightly — the importance of talking to contributors about the measurable impact of their contributions. That’s surprisingly hard for us to do — and it’s not because there’s no impact and no story to tell. It’s an information problem built into the nature of what we do.
Theodore Levitt, a professor at the Harvard Business School, used to say that “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” Twenty-five million people come to the LII site every year. It’s fair to assume that they’re not doing that because using legal information systems is undiluted fun (we hired five of the seven people in the world who believe that, although I think there could be a few more hiding in the group that will read this newsletter). Each of our audience members is doing something different, and possibly something urgent. For them, finding and understanding the law is the first step in solving a personal or professional problem, and that’s where the real impact of your contribution lies — in empowering them to do that.
There’s a lot we can deduce from analyzing traffic, from the e-mails that we get at the help desk, and from surveys. For example, use of our materials on the Second Amendment went up 800% in the wake of the Newtown school shootings. But what are we to make of a survey response that says, “I’m here to research federal regulations on special education”? Is that an attorney for a school system? A teacher? A parent of a special-needs kid? We can’t be sure, and there’s a limited amount we can find out without getting in the way of what we’re really trying to do — which is to make it easy for people to find and understand the law, no matter who they are or how or where they are trying to apply it.
Every dollar that you give us provides service for roughly 20 people for a year. It does that almost entirely by buying talent — the writers, editors, software developers, and communications specialists who do the real work here. We learn enough from the stories we get via e-mail to know that it’s making a tremendous difference in people’s lives around the world — and we are hugely grateful to you for making it possible.
We can get more specifics, and we will — after all, it is an information problem, and we have a 22-year track record of solving information problems in novel ways. But until we can give you a real story to tell, know that we’re grateful and that what you’re doing is making a tremendous difference to all sorts of people in all sorts of places.
PS: Got a story to tell about using the LII? I’d like to hear it.