Ignore What They Say
I recently remembered a talk I had with a client, Randi Corey of the Hydrocephalus Association, about her experience with surveys. Here’s her background:
- Academic fundraising
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
- March of Dimes
- Hydrocephalus Association
Needless to say, I was qualified to do more listening than talking in this conversation. It was fascinating to speak at length with someone with such a breadth of experience. She didn’t share a single opinion without the accompanying experience that gave her that opinion. Powerful stuff.
She related this story:
"I had an upscale golf event while with JDRF at the Governor’s Club, an upscale venue. Someone in our group had the idea that we could save lots of money by moving to a less expensive—and less prestigious—venue. I was uncomfortable with the idea, thinking it would hurt participation.
To make me comfortable, the group said, 'Let’s survey the participants from this past year and ask if it matters to them.' We did that. The participants said, 'We really don’t care. Move it if it will save money. We’ll be there for you regardless.' Well, needless to say, they didn’t show up and our fundraising dropped like a rock. The next year we returned to the prestigious venue and our fundraising went back up."
Randi’s point wasn’t that people sign up more when events are held at prestigious venues. Her point was that people don’t survey well and often don’t act as they say they will.
In our work with recognition programs, we find the same thing. Participants say in our surveys, “I wouldn’t want the gift I would earn for fundraising.” But, when presented with a gift opportunity after earning one, they redeem hand over fist. And, higher fundraisers redeem at higher percentages than lower fundraisers, though the high fundraisers most often say, “I wouldn’t take the gift.”
Ignore what they say—measure what they do.
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.