U.S. farmworkers have an average life expectancy that’s 30 years less than the average American citizen. Pretty shocking, no?

Non-profits often rely on surprising statistics like this to motivate their supporters to act. But as M+R’s Colin Holtz and Steve Daigneault explained in their recent whitepaper, it’s often not numbers but stories that prove most memorable and compelling – as Oxfam America discovered in a recent test.

Each day, many tobacco workers in the American South will absorb the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes through their skin – causing major health issues and a shocking decline in average life expectancy. But far more striking and memorable is this: tobacco poisoning is so common and so serious that farmworkers and local hospitals have coined a name for it. They call it the “green monster.”

Seeking to protect workers from these hazardous working conditions, Oxfam America recently launched an action alert targeting Reynolds Tobacco. After looking through the facts, we recommended testing the “green monster” against the shocking life expectancy stat. Two messages – identical except for the the subject line and the lede of the email – were sent to randomly selected audiences:

Statistics Version
If you are a farmworker in America, chances are you won’t live to be 50. That’s because the average life expectancy for a U.S. farmworker is 49 years. For an average citizen, it’s 79. That’s a 30-year difference — and one that shouldn’t exist.

“Green Monster” Version
They call it the “green monster.” It’s slang for tobacco poisoning, and it strikes underpaid tobacco farmworkers every day. Caused by nicotine, the green monster can soak through clothing and gloves, causing workers to become extremely sick.

The two versions had near-identical open rates. But the response rate – measuring how many people were motivated to send a message to Reynolds Tobacco – was 2.48 percentage points higher for the “green monster” version. That’s an increase of 14.98% over the control version!

Why the huge difference? The “green monster” helps the reader visualize the danger of these workers in a tangible way that a statistic can’t. It hits you in the gut. It triggers an emotion, instead of simply educating the supporter. It is, well, kind of gross.

What does this mean for you? Well, don’t throw away your stats just yet – they’re still important! But make sure you’re speaking to both the rational and emotional side of your supporters. If you find that you can dig deeper and locate a real human problem that makes people feel something, lead with it. You’ve only got a few scant seconds to grab people and get their attention with your lede– make the most of it!