America's Post-Election 'Self-Medicating' Means Big Things for Nonprofits
The country’s nonprofits experienced a spike in donations after Donald Trump's election. Was it just the most available way to say, “I don’t agree”—or was it more?
Are we "self-medicating" our malaise with our donations? I typically refer to a lovely dark chocolate when I use the phrase self-medicating, but it is appropriate here too. The act of helping others actually makes people feel better.
A Millennial commented on a blog of mine recently. I don’t know if she studies human psychology, but she sure sounds like she does: “I work in nonprofit arts ... I made several small monthly gifts as an act of self-care.”
I don’t think this young person donated to organizations likely to help care for him or her, but instead intuitively knew that he or she would feel better by donating.
Social science has long held that altruism leads to happiness. In this case, people (like me) moribund that our country elected a man (like that) needed a way to feel better even more than they needed a way to protest. And the best way to feel better is to help someone else. I asked my human behavior hubby, Otis Fulton, how that works. The Beloved opined:
There are two types of social rewards: the social rewards we receive when people acknowledge that they like and respect us, and the social rewards we receive when we treat others well.
There is a lot of evidence that people experience altruistic behavior as pleasurable, and that we are “hard-wired for giving.” In the last 20 years we have been able to demonstrate this time and again by putting people in MRI machines and watching what happens in their brains when they behave generously. And it really feels good—neurologically, it is similar to ingesting an addictive drug or hearing that you are holding a winning lottery ticket.
But, for me, that did not explain the uptick in giving since the election. I pressed for more. Otis said:
Well, it is important to identify the types of groups that were the beneficiaries of this sudden outpouring of largesse. This phenomenon has been mostly restricted to social issues groups, like the Massachusetts ACLU, which experienced a 500 percent increase in donations, and California-based Muslim Advocate, which has taken in 50 times the norm.
In his book "Social: Why We Are Wired to Connect," UCLA’s Matthew Lieberman describes how humans divide others into three categories: members of liked groups, members of disliked groups, and strangers.
When disliked groups are seen to gain the upper hand, it threatens the well-being of our in-group, and we support our "tribe" in reaction. Fittingly, the term that has been coined for this type of giving is "rage donation."
So the election provided—for a lot of Americans—a perfect storm of psychological pressures. And, in response, they gave, and are still giving, quite generously to the groups with which they identified.”
Otis helps us understand the sudden outpouring of support, but can this understanding help us even when our tribe isn’t threatened? Turns out it can.
As a fundraiser, here’s how:
- In your copy, your collateral, your brand manifestation, create your tribe—your “liked” group—and celebrate it.
- Define threats to your tribe.
- Ask for money to help.
We know that “woe is me” appeals don’t work. This isn’t that. This is a “they’re coming for us” appeal. And guess what? If you’re reading this publication, “they” may actually be coming for the people your organization represents.
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.