The Hidden Cost of Control
I am progressing in my ability to get Otis, the Turnkey resident psychologist, to do my work for me. Typically, I tell him about my work in peer-to-peer fundraising or about running a business over a sauvignon blanc, piquing his interest to the point he will do some research, then blog about it as if I had done all the work myself. It is a good system, but clearly could be improved.
This time I just had him speak to the client directly and recap to me what they discussed in an email, as seen below. This has proved a far superior method for writing blogs. The Beloved writes:
I was consulting with an executive with a major health-care nonprofit. She mentioned a concern about the way that organization’s staff interacted with volunteers. She felt like staff members were being too prescriptive in their instructions about fundraising, and that was probably a bad thing—although she couldn’t tell me exactly why.
German psychologist Armin Falk researches the perception of distrust, and talks about “the hidden cost of control.” Even the language used when talking to volunteers can damage their connection to the mission. For example, just using the word “should,” has been shown to trigger feelings of control and worsen performance. [Writer's note: As in, “You should put the survivor tent over there.”]
It turns out that her intuition was spot on. Psychology tells us that two major factors that influence intrinsic motivation—commitment to a cause—are competence and autonomy. Giving someone a script to follow communicates the message that you distrust their competence in completing a task, and worse—that you are trying to control their behavior. The result is that the volunteer feels less invested, and their performance suffers as a result.
So, all that boiled down means that if you want your leadership volunteers to do more, tell them what to do less. Show them the goal, and let them achieve it in the way they see fit. Then reward them for success.
Terrifying, isn’t it?
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.