In P2P, It’s All About the Benjamins
Wall Street investors famously coined the phrase, “It’s all about the Benjamins,” referring to the hundred dollar bill that bears Benjamin Franklin’s likeness. As it turns out, Franklin can give us a few tips about how to maximize fundraising dollars.
Franklin was born one of 17 children to parents who were poor—a difficult station—but he achieved the status of scientist, scholar and politician later in life. To compensate for his humble origin, Franklin developed sophisticated social skills and became “a master of the game of personal politics,” to quote a biographer.
Early in his political career, he had a peer who attempted to smear him and tarnish his reputation. He shrewdly set out to turn his political opponent into an ally. To do so, he wrote a letter to the man, asking if he could borrow a specific book from his library. His rival complied with his request, and Franklin returned the book a week later with a “thank you” note.
The next time the legislature met, the man approached Franklin personally and greeted him warmly. According to Franklin’s autobiography, the man “ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends and our friendship continued to his death.”
Two centuries later, psychologists would label this the Ben Franklin Effect—the idea that doing a favor for someone enhances the favorable attitude towards that individual. It works like this: we only do favors for people we like. Ergo, if we are doing a favor for someone, it must be because we like him or her. So powerful is this human bias; that we now know that doing a favor for someone makes you like that person more than if they had done a favor for you.
Two hundred plus years later, enter peer-to-peer fundraising.
Often heard conventional wisdom about our organizations’ volunteers is that they’ve done “enough” and shouldn’t be approached to fundraise, recruit others, donate, etc. Too many asks will run them off is the sentiment.
But if we accept the wisdom of one of the Founding Fathers, every time we ask for a “favor,” we position our supporters to develop even greater affinity to our cause. And yet, we are reluctant to embrace the power of the ask.
Data from the 2016 National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study tells the story. The study surveyed 98,000 donors who had previously given between $250 and $2,500 annually to cultural institutions (museums, symphonies, etc.), but then stopped donating.
The two most common reasons for discontinuing donations were:
- Not acknowledged/thanked for previous gift.
- Not asked to donate again.
The last reason given was “asked too often.” People stopped giving because they weren’t asked to donate as often as those who were asked too often after a previous gift. These people wanted the nonprofit to ask for a favor/donation, and we were scared to do so.
What is Franklin’s lesson to us? Our requests to supporters isn’t a zero-sum game. It is actually the case that every act of support can increase their positive attitudes about our organizations, as long as we acknowledge them appropriately.
So, ask away—your supporters are waiting. Just remember to say thanks.
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.