Getting Ingroup: A Dispatch From the Women's March
I was at the Women’s March in D.C.—you know, that little get-together. I stayed with a friend who lived near the Metro stop at the end of the line, the furthest you could get from the march location and still use the metro. I thought that would mean we would be able to board at 8:30 a.m. for the 1:00 p.m. march with no problem.
We had no problem. What we had was a three-hour party at the Metro stop instead. I believe, using my sophisticated method of calculating the number of people onsite, that there were roughly 50,000 people there at that stop. Why do I think that? Because I do, and I said it, therefore it is true—50,000 people. There, said it again. Much more true.
As I went through my Women’s March experience, I couldn’t help but think about the psychological principles we apply each day in the course of our work at Turnkey. We figure out how to use natural human biases to create conditions in which people are likely to say “yes” to our ask for fundraising, volunteerism or donations.
The biggest bias at work at the Women’s March was ingroup bias. What’s that? I’ll ask Otis Fulton, hubby and human behavior expert, to explain.
One of the most thoroughly researched ideas by social psychologists is the concept of “ingroups” and “outgroups.” There are literally thousands of studies on the topic. Simply put, people define themselves in terms of social groupings and are quick to denigrate others who don't fit into those groups. Others who share some defining qualities are our ingroup, and those who do not are our outgroup.
Like most biases, at some time in human history there was undoubtedly some survival mechanism at work in formulating ingroup-outgroup distinctions. So today, in our desire to feel safe, we bond together with those whom we see as most like in an attempt to protect ourselves from those who might do us harm.
Predictably, a recent study conducted by University of Missouri researchers showed that the effect of ingroup identification becomes even more intense as people feel that they are increasingly threatened. We turn to those in our ingroup when we feel that we may be at risk of some type of physical harm. Other research has shown that people are more likely to categorize others in terms of ingroup/outgroup when they feel they have something to lose.
What I felt when I walked into the court yard of the Wiehle Metro stop was inclusiveness. I was ingroup. Whether the other person was male or female, wearing a head scarf or not, black, white or other, disabled or not, gay, straight, whatever, they were in my group composed of people concerned about the new President’s decision-making.
I met students from Brandeis University (some gay, some Jewish, some really short). I met a man with a “this is what a feminist looks like” sign, there with his wife and 8-year-old daughter. I met elderly ladies mad about still having to do this kind of protesting in 2017; they used colorful language. It was a cocoon of inclusiveness. I felt safe and cared for. And the only thing binding us together was fear. Being in that environment made me brave. It made me loud. It made me confident.
Now, let’s think about the folks who voted for Donald Trump. They, too, were impacted by ingroup/outgroup bias. They are ingroup with people afraid of the direction of the nation under Obama’s administration. Some, not all, are ingroup with those who fear people of color or other type of difference. An increasingly less silent few are ingroup with those who feel our nation should be for white people. What all these folks share is what I experienced at the Women’s March. They feel safe with those with whom they are ingroup. Being ingroup makes them more vocal and more confident in the behaviors that characterize their group.
What does that have to do with us, in nonprofit? We gotta get out there and ingroup some folks. We have to use our spider-sense to make them display their connection to your organization overtly, to themselves and to others. And, yes we can. (Oh no, did I just say that? *Sniff, sniff, tiny bit of weeping.*)
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.