Fundraising Connection: Beware the Survey
My kids would say sometimes I don't listen. And sometimes, I don't.
I watch. For example, my kid says, "I will mow the grass and be most happy to receive the modest stipend you offer for this effort, dearest mother." But after nightfall the grass is uncut. My little survey failed to deliver accurate information. You are thinking, "Your kid is lazy." And, yep, sometimes that is so.
But what really happened is that his Present Self answered the question to the best of his ability. "Not a terrible chore and I need the money," he thought. But his Future Self, who got signed up to mow the grass, did not buy in. "I'm tired. I don't want to take another shower. I don't want the money that badly." Those are effectively two different people with two different sets of circumstances and two different decision-making data sets that led to two different outcomes.
While having a barbecue in the backyard with uncut grass is not a tragedy, planning an event based on information collected in the same way can be.
Last year I attended the newly formed Engage Peer-to-Peer Conference. Lots of really smart people in the peer-to-peer fundraising industry were sharing ideas with great value.
But I kept hearing some phrases in the room that made me wince: "Our fundraisers don't think …" and "Our fundraisers don't want …" and "The feedback I get is …" I interpreted those phrases to mean, "We asked them, and this is what they said, so we took action based on their answers." They were typically talking about Present Self answers.
If we make decisions and plans based on those answers, we are most often surprised and disappointed when the surveyed group does not behave as expected. And, in a worst-case scenario, our "survey" is actually composed of taking phone calls from a few incredibly vocal advocates for the way things ought to be. Reacting to that sort of data is like taking the average height of a basketball team composed of one 8-footer and four 5-footers. That data set does not tell a true story, and if we plan and make decisions based on it, we fail.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.