Using psychology in the service of tzedakah

Using psychology in the service of tzedakah

Twenty-five-year-old Ari Teman has been working with 12 gurus — his company’s name — since 1997 (yes, he was 15). "I’ve got the benefit of growing up doing this work," said Teman, raised in Teaneck and now living on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.

Noting that his many years in the business — 12 gurus does design strategy, product design, and branding — has enabled him to keep track of changing trends and technology and integrate them into his work, Teman said, "We do our best work for charities."

"Since they have little money to start with, they’re willing to take more risks and go more to the edge," he said. In addition, he noted, their work is "almost entirely sales, communicating their message."

On May 16, 12 gurus helped communicate the message of Meir Panim, which feeds thousands of schoolchildren throughout Israel. In a New York event that featured an art auction and wine-tasting, Teman’s group helped raise close to a half-million dollars, he said, explaining that proceeds were still coming in from the Website created for the event.

12 gurus, which has worked with companies from Morgan Stanley to local medical practices, said Teman, "helps companies tell their story by using psychology."

"Charities no longer succeed by focusing on splashy graphics or trying to be louder" than others, he said. "People shut it out," he added, noting that his company "tries to create an environment where people can connect and tell their own story."

"The old idea of ‘eye-catching graphics,’ mass mailings, and clich?d photos of sad children is dead," said Teman. "We are drowning in charity offers and appeals, and simply saying ‘give’ gets ignored. You must enable the donors [themselves] to tell their own emotional story about what you do," and why it touches them.

For example, he said, in presenting information on Meir Panim, he reasoned that potential donors were likely to connect with different things. For example, some might prefer targeting their donations to children, while others might want to support single mothers. He decided, therefore, to be "less specific."

"We provided a ‘screen’" that people could project onto, he said, explaining that someone might be more inclined to buy a dress if it were displayed without comment, rather than bearing a sign saying "Dress for the dance floor."

"What if they want to wear it to the theater?" he said.

Teman said that the Meir Panim event, called Sensi (Italian for senses), was publicized primarily through the Website, which was designed to appeal to each of the senses, not just "the visual." He explained that while most people respond best to visual messages, others must be drawn in differently.

The site was also created to bring in a younger generation of donors, many of whom use social networking tools such as Facebook and MySpace. Since users of these sites create profiles that may identify their religion, 12 gurus searched for those people they felt would respond and notified them that "a Jewish volunteer group wanted their permission" to talk with them.

"Branding is out," said Teman, noting that his group, with staffers from New York, Boston, Hackensack, and India, is "focusing instead on permission marketing."

For example, he said, having reached some people through the wine sale held on the event Website, "we now have permission to go back and send them more messages." So now, in addition to providing "tours through Israeli wines," the group can also include subtle messages about the work of Meir Panim, he said.

Teman said the motto of his group is "innovation and integrity," explaining that people will come to trust you if you clearly state your goals and then choose only those courses of action that adhere to them.

He noted that the event’s state-of-the-art Website — which enabled online ticket purchasing, an online art action, and a kosher wine store — is being considered for design awards, and said that more than 95 percent of site visitors click to sign up or donate. "We used ‘bleeding edge’ technology," he said, noting that the site employed the same level of technology used by Gmail.

A graduate of Brandeis University and the founder of JCorps International, Inc., which encourages 18- to 28-year-old Jewish singles to work as volunteers in New York City, Teman said that venture, too, has been extremely successful.

"We’ve got people coming right from work in business suits to feed the hungry in soup kitchens," he said.

To view photos of the Meir Panim event or make a donation, visit

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