Influencing Donors Ethically
I took a seat in the Grand Ballroom in the Waldorf=Astoria on the second day of the DMA Nonprofit Federation’s 2006 New York Nonprofit Conference in early August with my coffee and bagel just as Heath Slawner began his general session on the power of influence. Slawner’s presentation shed light on the topic of influence and ethics in a fresh, new way that had me on the edge of my seat even before the coffee had a chance to kick in.
A partner at Montreal-based training and development firm Hart Resource Development, Slawner outlined six principles of ethical influence developed by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, president of Influence At Work, a firm that provides influence-related consulting, training and presentations to corporations, government and nonprofit agencies.
The principles — reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking and consensus — can be used by any company or organization looking to ethically influence or persuade people to choose a behavior. The three principles that apply most to nonprofit fundraising are:
1. Reciprocity. The rule of reciprocity refers to the deep obligation people feel to repay those who have already given to them.
“In the fundraising sphere, one of the ways you can invoke it, especially with people who don’t directly benefit from an organization’s programs or services, is to position the support that you’re seeking as payback for what your organization is already doing or will continue to do or will start doing — and that’s what I call cosmic reciprocity,” Slawner said. “You’re not asking for something back because you’ve given to that person directly, but because you give to the community, because you give and improve the lives of the people who are around them.
“Reciprocity is really where it all starts and, for fundraising organizations in particular, it’s very important to demonstrate actively what they are doing for the community, what their successes are, what their achievements are, and positioning requests as payback for what they have already done and what they will continue to do,” he added.