How to Attract More Men to Your Mission
Recently, we were contacted to provide commentary for some forthcoming research. The request involved explaining the gender difference in various types of peer-to-peer events.
There isn’t a “more helpful” sex; both men and women help others. But the gender difference in the peer-to-peer realm is stark—women participate and fundraise at significantly higher levels than men do. This mirrors the general nonprofit space. On average, women are nearly 30 percent more likely to volunteer.
One popular explanation for this difference points to the amount of time that men and women have available. The argument goes that women volunteer more than men because fewer women hold full-time jobs. But when we compare men and women who work full-time, only 23 percent of men volunteer, compared to 30 percent of women. This pattern is true across just about any demographic you look at. Regardless of income level, age or employment status, women are more likely to volunteer.
This begs two questions: Why does this gender gap occur, and what can I do to recruit more men?
In her wonderful book, “Strangers Drowning,” Larissa MacFarquhar talks about people being “do-gooders, concerned with the well-being of others.” It’s easy to be a do-gooder towards one’s family and friends. The people she writes about extend their conviction to help to strangers, people they have never met. (Note: I am using her language here somewhat loosely—if you haven’t read this book I recommend you do so ASAP).
Another type of person that MacFarquhar talks about is the “hero,” someone who comes upon a problem and decides to help. MacFarquhar and other research confirm when heroes aren’t helping, they return to their ordinary life. Contrast the hero with the do-gooder, who knows there are crises everywhere—all the time—and seeks them out. You can think of men as being more of the hero type, women more the do-gooders.
The difference between heroes and do-gooders affects the ways they volunteer. Research concludes that men and women engage in different types of prosocial behaviors. Men are more likely to engage in more physically demanding, risky activities, whereas women participate in long-term, sustained efforts.
Here are some of the ways men and women differ when volunteering:
- Prefer to volunteer in organizations that are people-oriented, emphasizing consensus, communication and cooperation.
- Prefer to volunteer in organizations that are less structured and less hierarchal than men do.
- Prefer volunteer tasks that emphasize group orientation, group facilitation and reciprocal relationships.
- Remain longer in volunteer roles in which they feel a sense of intimacy and belonging with others in the organization.
- Prefer to volunteer in organizations that are goal and achievement oriented, emphasizing efficiency in meeting clearly defined objectives.
- Prefer to volunteer in organizations with a clearly defined hierarchy.
- Prefer volunteer tasks that involve team competition.
- Remain longer in volunteer roles in which they feel personally empowered and derive a sense of efficacy.
What do these gender differences mean for attracting more men to our causes? Especially for men, it is important that there is a goal to shoot for. When the goal has been accomplished, give ‘em a trophy! Whatever it is, remember the “heroic” aspect of their behavior. Men—the heroes—respond strongly to being recognized publicly for working on your behalf.
Otis: I am not amused by the little trophy my wife, Katrina, installed near the trash containers in our house. But, I understand…
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.