Homer Simpson for Nonprofits
I've spent the last month working with Alia McKee and Mark Rovner of Sea Change Strategies on what the growing field of behavioral economics means to fundraisers. We wrote an e-book — "Homer Simpson for Nonprofits: The Truth about How People Really Think and What It Means for Promoting Your Cause" — on the topic, parts of which are featured in this column, and we'll be presenting our findings this month at the Nonprofit Technology Conference. In this column, I share the first three of eight principles we've identified:
1. Understand Homer, but don't use his ethics.
There is a line between using principles of behavioral economics to manipulate rather than persuade. In "Nudge," Sunstein and Thaler refer to this concept as "Libertarian Paternalism." In this context, libertarian means people should be allowed to do what they like — even if it is eating junk food, using plastic grocery bags, driving Hummers or not saving a dime. Paternalism means it is legitimate to try to influence people's behaviors in order to make their lives better and guide them to choices that benefit the greater good.
When combining libertarianism and paternalism, choices are never blocked off. People may continue to do as they please. However, the choices are designed to influence a particular outcome that will make the choosers better off.
Each time you have the luxury of designing a choice for your audiences, consider the concept of libertarian paternalism. Design the choice not to block off options, but to influence a certain outcome. A simple example of this in action is a pre-checked opt-in box for your online communications subscription. Or even holding your fundraising auction before your gala dinner.
2. The left brain need not apply.
We are literally of two minds: the rational mind and the emotional mind. Both sides compete for control, and the emotional mind typically wins. To get people to donate money means we need to focus on the emotional mind first and foremost. Don't be afraid of emotion. It's not sappy; it's what makes people care.