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.*)
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.