Being creative, once a week, on a deadline, requires careful thought and planning. I thought about my plan to ask my beloved what I was going to write about on Sunday morning. I thought, "I'll ask over breakfast, while he cooks and is in service mode." Here's what happened.
To neuropsychologist Otis Fulton: "Honey I have a problem. Often, I find that my clients have spent a lot of time and effort soliciting really nice gifts like airline tickets, cruises, gift cards and the like. And they have been using these gifts to reward fundraisers. They strongly believe these gifts are great and that people fundraise to get them. What do you think about that?"
His head cocked to one side, wearing his traditional cooking garb of sweat pants and a T-shirt, with furrowed brow, Otis says, "Oh sweetie, that is a huge problem, in a number of ways." His voice is fair, lilting with delight at the chance to enhance another conversation with foot-notable research.
"Really, tell me more," I say, chin on hand as I sit at the peninsula with my coffee.
"Well," Otis says, waving his spatula, "the first problem is the value of the reward. Small rewards can be more effective than large rewards in motivating behavior.[i] We call this the 'less is more' effect. If you are trying to gain ever higher compliance—which I take pushing peer-to-peer fundraisers to ever higher fundraising to be—it is essential that the fundraiser cannot mentally use the reward to justify their fundraising."
The toast is burning now as he plops down beside me.
Otis continues, "In other words, the incentive must be seen as providing 'insufficient justification' to produce the behavior.[ii] If the individual can attribute his or her behavior to being motivated by significant rewards like an airline ticket, they will begin to see their behavior as being motivated by the reward. In this case we would call the reward extrinsic motivation, instead of intrinsic motivation, which, in the nonprofit world, is the desire to help the mission."
"Could you grab the butter and the juice please?"
"When rewards are extrinsic, the relationship to the cause becomes transactional," Otis continues. "For example, people devoting 50 hours of their time to fundraising who are given a $500 iPad make the unconscious mental calculation that they have been working for $10 an hour. This is the beginning of the end of their commitment to the cause. Extrinsic rewards are unsustainable by fundraising organizations, and will eventually result in less commitment."
Otis pauses, looks up in the air, and notes, index finger on chin, "But, extrinsic rewards do produce great results if you are looking for a one time behavior. And that may be why your clients see them as successful. They likely are only looking at a single year return."
I say, "Oh honey, let's talk about that next Sunday (when I have another deadline looming), OK?"
So, in other words, "sufficient justification," or reward in this case, leads to less sufficient motivation and a more transactional experience for the fundraiser. "Insufficient justification" or reward leads to not only sufficient motivation but also a more sustainable, mission-oriented experience for fundraisers.
i. Leippe, M. R., & Eisenstadt, D. (1994). Generalization of dissonance reduction: decreasing prejudice through induced compliance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(3), 395-413.
ii. Festinger, L. & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58(2), 203.
Otis 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 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 also regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” 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.