Recognition: Better for Me When It’s All About You
When someone asks for Turnkey’s elevator speech, what we usually say is something like, “We get people to ask other people for money.”
One of the main tools that we use to motivate people is recognition. Recognition can be delivered in many forms, so deploying recognition for maximum effect takes planning and strategy. One component is almost always the use of email. Recognizing people personally with email is inexpensive, and its effects are measurable.
Recently, we presented a client, a children’s hospital, with samples of recognition emails that we wrote for their walk season. When you do this type of messaging, you write emails for the entire campaign, usually 16 or 20 in total. The delivery of each email is triggered by the behaviors of constituents, things like registering for the walk; registering as a team captain; raising $XXX dollars as an individual or as a team; raising $X,XXX dollars more; registering, but then failing to fundraise—lots of different behaviors.
This is what a recognition email for the children’s hospital may look like for someone who has registered, but has not yet raised any money (the names of the hospital and event are fictitious here). We are trying to push them to raise $100:
Dear [First Name],
We are so excited you have decided to lace up your sneakers and join us for the 2018 Walk for Healthy Kids! Now it’s time for the next step. Everyone wants children to have the best pediatric care possible. Kick off your fundraising by sharing your story on social media and asking for people’s support. Tell them why you got involved—your friends and family members will want to help!
Imagine what your support means. Did you know that $100 covers the cost of seven meal tickets for families staying in the hospital with their child? When you reach the first milestone of $100, you will be offered an exclusive Walk for Healthy Kids wristband. Every time you wear this exclusive wristband, it helps us spread awareness by showing your support of what we do here at Memorial Children’s Hospital.
Thank you for supporting Memorial Children’s and the kids in our care—we look forward to seeing you at the Walk for Healthy Kids starting line on Sept. 18!
Finally, thank you for being a part of the Memorial Children’s Hospital community.
Often, when reading a recognition email like this one, a client will have two reactions. First, “Wow, it’s really short,” and then, “You don’t talk much about the mission.” They are right about both.
You Had Me at ‘Hello’
Nonprofit marketing and walk directors work every day to promote the mission of their organizations. Turnkey isn’t directly involved with the mission; we are focused solely on motivating people to fundraise. We are handed a list of people who have participated in previous events or have done something (like give up their contact information) that indicates they are inclined to do something for the organization in the future. In other words, it’s a qualified list. These people have already said yes to being connected somehow to the mission.
Recent studies reveal that you have eight seconds to capture someone’s attention online before they move on to the next thing. So, messages must be short. And, although it seems counterintuitive, you must limit information about the nonprofit in the copy. There are plenty of other sources, starting with the organization’s website, for supporters to get great content about the mission. Remember, the first step—getting a person into the recognition system in the first place—has already been done. The focus of messaging now should be:
- recognizing the person for what they’ve done (thanks!)
- asking them to do more
What makes this a “recognition” email? Recognition messages tell people, “I see you.” Although there is mention of the impact of the person’s fundraising for the event, ($100 covers the cost of seven meal tickets) the focus of the email is on the person. The word “you” or “your” is used 15 times in the copy. Why is that important?
You is a placeholder for your name. Your name is special to you—to a surprising extent. For example, research on sales demonstrates that people are much more likely to buy from someone who has a name that sounds like their own. Email marketers have tried to take advantage of the power of one’s name, starting emails with your name and repeating it several times in the copy. The problem is, it sounds artificial, forced. That’s because one’s name must be used very carefully; it’s overuse can make one feel like it is inappropriate, too personal.
You is different. It is easy to use in copy and avoids the heavy-handed feel that the use of one’s actual name produces. But it results in the same attention that happens when we hear our own name. In the movie, “Beaches,” Bette Midler’s character says, “But enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do you think of me?”
The use of “you” when crafting messaging is an example of selecting language that impacts people at an unconscious level, beyond “just the facts.” Besides the use of “you,” here are some of the other psychological drivers at work in this particular email:
- “Everyone wants children to have the best pediatric care possible.” This is an example of social proof, where a person determines their own attitudes based on those of others. If everyone wants this to happen, I should want it too.
- “Tell them why you got involved, your friends and family members will want to help!” This appeals to a person’s desire for image motivation. Telling others about their support for the hospital communicates that they are a good person, the kind of person who engages in prosocial behaviors.
- “Imagine what your support means.” When you ask someone to perform a behavior, there is a natural tendency for them to push back on the request. This doesn’t happen if you ask someone to imagine something. And strangely, your brain can’t tell the difference between imagining something and actually experiencing it.
- “Every time you wear this exclusive wristband, it helps us spread awareness.” Wearing items branded with a nonprofit’s logo is an example of social signaling, communicating to others that you are the kind of person who supports causes that serve the greater good. Making the item available exclusively to supporters enhances its value, because it can only be obtained through service to the organization. And, getting a supporter to wear it in public makes it visible to the most important set of eyes—those belonging to the supporter. Seeing yourself as someone who is engaged in a behavior reinforces your belief in the mission.
- “Finally, thank you for being a part of the Memorial Children’s Hospital community.” People behave altruistically much more often when their behavior benefits members of their ingroup. Suggesting that they are a member of the “community” activates the sense that they are doing something for their ingroup and increases the likelihood that they will follow through.
Recognition shapes a person’s behavior and the way they see themselves. As marketing guru, Seth Godin says, “People like us do things like this.” Creating and deploying effective recognition messaging is an example of that old line, “It takes hard work to make things look easy.”
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.