As a master BS'er (behavioral scientist) in private and professional life, I want to know why people do things, so I can use it in executing my evil plans. My beloved henchman, Otis the neuropsychologist, feeds my habit regularly with links sent in emails with cryptic subject lines. This subject line was “awe.” I thought it was about cute puppies. But no, it was a gem.
Turns out, if I can get someone to experience awe, they are more likely to be less narcissistic and be more helpful to others. At this point you may:
- Just believe me
- Read a dry abstract, or
- Read the research authors’ own wonderful summary in The New York Times
If your navigation bar brought you back to me, you’ll want to know how to make use of this interesting fact in your work raising money. In short, if you can raise goose pimples on someone, you have positioned them to donate or do other good work for you, like fund raise. Seriously. Or, as we say in the South, “I **** you not.”
How can we do that? We can position heroes who inspire awe by their fight against a malady. We can talk about researchers who create awe by their steadfastness. Or, we can have people look up at really tall trees. Still serious here.
In a series of different experiments, these researchers found that awe consistently inspires altruism. They were able to demonstrate this link, but could only guess at why it works. Say the authors, “One answer is that awe imbues people with a different sense of themselves, one that is smaller, more humble and part of something larger. Our research finds that even brief experiences of awe, such as being amid beautiful tall trees, lead people to feel less narcissistic and entitled and more attuned to the common humanity people share with one another. Fleeting experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective, and orient our actions toward the needs of those around us.”
Awe, apparently, makes one feel small enough to be large-hearted.
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.