How to Build Your Next High-Dollar Fundraising Volunteer
I don’t sing because I am happy. I am happy because I sing. — William James
I don’t lead because I fundraise. I fundraise because I lead. — Said No One Ever (Yet…)
Here is a story for you:
“I started reading palms when I was in my teens, as a way to supplement my income from doing magic and mental shows. When I started, I did not believe in palmistry. But I knew that to ‘sell’ it, I had to act as if I did. After a few years, I became a firm believer in palmistry. One day, the late Stanley Jaks, who was a professional mentalist and a man I respected, tactfully suggested that it would make an interesting experiment if I deliberately gave readings opposite to what the lines indicated. I tried this out with a few clients. To my surprise and horror, my readings were just as successful as ever. Ever since then I have been interested in the powerful forces that convince us, [palm] reader and client alike, that something is so when it really isn’t.”
In this story, famed University of Oregon psychologist Ray Hyman described how acting the role of a palm reader convinced him that palmistry worked.
Let me reiterate—he said acting the role of X convinced him of X.
When we look at the people who serve on volunteer leadership committees for nonprofit peer-to-peer fundraising, we assume those people are our highest fundraisers and that’s how they came to be on the committees. Or we assume that these folks have a strong mission connection and that is why they are on the committee.
What if, because they simply act the role of people who are completely committed to their mission by being on the committee, they fundraise like people who are completely committed to their mission? What if serving on the committee is not a marker for high fundraising, but instead is causal to high fundraising? What if Ray Hyman is right and, if we get people on the committee, we can get them to fundraise?
I offer what limited proof I can. And wow, it is limited. The reason it is limited is that organizations by and large do not mark constituent records with “served on committee.” Because they don’t—it’s hard to study. I have one data set that illustrates my point. Unfortunately, this data set is from an organization that is only beginning to invest in volunteer leadership in a significant way, so the number of volunteer leadership and advocacy volunteers is small. With that said, take a look:
Yes, you read it correctly. Let’s just look at median fundraising:
Participant = $140
Volunteer leadership = $1,307
Advocates = $2,411
In the past, we have simply said, “Of course they fundraise at high levels, they are the most committed.” But according to social scientists, they act committed and, therefore, fundraise at high levels.
So, powerful is the impact of our behavior on our attitudes that the behavior doesn’t even need to be a physical action—it can simply consist of spoken words. Psychologists refer to this as the “saying-becomes-believing” effect. What does that look like in our world? It looks like a volunteer taking the microphone and talking about the event. It looks like a team captain recruiting team members. It looks like an advocate calling a congressperson.
In the last 30 years, social psychologists have demonstrated time and time again that we are more likely to act ourselves into a way of thinking than we are to think ourselves into a way of acting. This is a startling notion. The observation that our attitudes follow our behavior has been noted across a wide variety of social situations.
So, at the end of the day, how do you make use of this idea—that to change an attitude in a target, we must extract a behavior from that target? You extract the behavior however you can.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a new book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
Otis 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 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 degrees in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and 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 also regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” 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.