Establishing Relationships With Volunteer Fundraisers
Your “first date” with your volunteer fundraisers is when they register for your peer-to-peer fundraising event. You may have shared prior secretive glances and witty repartee with them in the form of direct response or a donation, but this is the big move. You are asking them out.
You have to decide if you’ll make them pay to date you—are you going to charge a registration fee? This already seems like a messed up relationship.
Per resident psychologist Otis Fulton: “We live in two worlds—one characterized by social exchanges, and the other characterized by market exchanges. We apply different norms to these two kinds of relationships. Introducing market norms into social exchanges violates the social norms and hurts the social relationship. Setting up a ‘pay-to-play’ scenario communicates that people are in a market relationship, not a social one. And once the relationship has been framed in market terms, recovering the social relationship is difficult.”
If, out of the gate, you codify that you are in a market relationship with your fundraiser, you can expect a few things:
- Low retention in the absence of a better offer next year
- Low fundraising due to: “I’ve paid for the date. It is not my job to make it great. It’s yours. You sold it to me.”
- High customer service expectations—you have created a consumer
- Low fundraising due to: “I paid to get in ... I don’t have to fundraise too.”
There are some business models in which having a registration fee makes sense. These are clearly defined market relationships. In those cases, if we recognize, embrace and exploit the market relationship, it can and does work to generate margin through fundraising. In those cases, we allow volunteer fundraisers to pay for their experiences primarily through fundraising, defraying a small amount through a registration fee. And all that works.
The problem happens when we combine methods used for market relationships, like charging an entry fee or registration fee, with the idea that the participant is going to act like we are in a social relationship—expecting them to fundraise, for example.
You are staring into the doe-like eyes of your date, the zero-dollar registrant, wondering, “Why won’t you raise any money and be part of this relationship?”
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.