Another Thing About Why Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Is So Powerful…
This summer, I (Katrina) was in New York City, seeing clients and people whom I hoped would become clients. I was by myself, in between an afternoon meeting and a late evening meeting, looking for something to do. So, I did what people do in New York. I walked. And I walked. And I walked some more.
On the return to my hotel, I went past Penn Station. There was what looked to be a person who was homeless, asking for money and food. I couldn’t help but notice that she looked like she had Down syndrome. My heart stopped. I have a child with Down syndrome. What if she were on the streets? Who would help her? How would she survive?
So, I sprang into action. I had no money on me, having left everything except for my key and one credit card in my room. I turned, rushed to my hotel, up the elevator and into my room. I gathered cash, that apple I hadn’t eaten and the chocolate that was now on my pillow. I went back downstairs and bought a bagel and a bottle of water. I put it all in a paper bag and went seeking the person I so wanted to help.
She was gone.
I was bereft. I wanted to know her. I wanted to see her smile. I wanted to know where she would sleep that night. And, I wanted to feel good –– which helping others almost always makes me feel.
So, now I’m standing on the street with this bag of cash and food and a big cold hole in my chest where I had planned to put a warm feeling. But I knew I could still get that warm glow, even if I couldn’t help the woman I’d hoped to. There were usually lots of people asking for help around Penn Station. I started walking, looking for someone to help.
The first guy I approached was sitting against a concrete wall. As I made eye contact and walked directly toward him, he got up and trotted off.
I kept walking. The second person I tried to help didn’t see me coming, which I think is why she didn’t walk off. But when I addressed her, she immediately cut me off and said, “I don’t want that. I don’t want that. I don’t want that.”
I kept walking. The next person I saw did not move when he saw me coming, nor did he move when I spoke to him. But he wouldn’t speak to me, nor would he take my bag o’ goodies when I offered it.
At this point, I knew I was experiencing a thing, a blog-worthy thing. I had a bit of an epiphany. Here’s what it was:
I was out of context for these folks. They were supposed to be asking me, not me asking them. They were suspicious of my motives, and that made them afraid. I thought to myself, “Is this what direct response feels like when we don’t put ourselves in context? Is this why only one in 2,800 gives a gift when solicited via a blast email campaign? Am I doing non-segmented, non-personalized outreach right now? Am I going in without a welcome series?”
To test my theory, here is what I tried next (I walked around the corner so that my test would be unsullied by my previous attempts). I walked by another person sitting with all their plastic bags around them, and he asked me for money. I said, “I don’t have any money, but someone just gave me this bag of food that I don’t need. You can have it.” His face brightened. He took the bag and thanked me profusely. I walked off. It was a typical exchange I might have with someone asking for money in New York City.
This “giver-of-good-feelings” — my new friend in need — required the correct frame of reference. After many misfires, I gave this gentleman one he could understand and, more importantly, one he could trust.
This experience made me reflect on the power of peer-to-peer fundraising. When a donor gives because a friend asks, the friend establishes the context, creates a frame of reference and conquers distrust in one fell swoop. This is the power of peer-to-peer fundraising. And it’s also an illustration of what we have to overcome in direct response in general.
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.