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?”
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.