The Evil Plan Behind Gaining Human Compliance
For 26 years as Turnkey's CEO, I have been charged with getting people to do stuff.
The most easily measurable form of my work is my effort to get volunteer fundraisers to ask other people for money for my nonprofit clients. The way I do that is to use the human desire for recognition to elicit a behavior.
My scope of work for clients kept broadening until one day I realized that desire for recognition was a much more powerful motivator than I had originally thought. And, I realized that the same human inclinations work in the other parts of my life in which I need to get people to do stuff — leading a company, raising teenagers, serving on boards, trying to buy big-ticket items for less ...
I began to consult with a neuropsychologist, Otis Fulton. Together, we started digging in to social science research to help understand peer-to-peer fundraising specifically, and human motivation in general, to inform Turnkey's work. Our most recent whitepaper on the psychology around motivation is available here.
Here are the basics, taking you the reader as my target of compliance (cue evil laughter):
- I can't educate you into compliance. I have to get you to comply and then gain your belief.
- Once I get you to take an action, you have a bias for consistency that will help you continue to comply.
- You have an internal, or intrinsic, label for yourself. I have to first know what it is, then make a plan to change it.
- Once I get you to self-label in the way I want, I then need to supply ways for you to affirm your new belief.
- People, including myself, have no idea that our own decision-making works this way. It is almost all unconscious.
Seeing my world through these psychological filters yields a different type of decision-making. Most decisions are cherry-picked. "What can I execute?" as opposed to, "What will work?" Let's take an example.
We will spend $250,000 on a campaign to a prospect list to acquire new donors to the house list. We will segment by income and sex. The campaign will include direct mail, email and an online presence. Each communication will include a request to donate.
We don't know the internal label of the list members, which is way more important than whether they are female and earning $70K and up. Instead of blindly shooting information at them, let's ask for an action to help us define the current internal label of the individuals and segment based on that.
As an example, drop a request for list members to post a note of support to social media. If they do, you have found or potentially created the smallest nugget of an internal label which you can nurture thoughtfully. Pushing a communication on an unprepared target creates a "too much, too fast" feeling in them. They back off instead of coming forward, giving us 1 percent to 2 percent response rates ... about which we are, stunningly, happy.
Katrina VanHuss is CEO of Turnkey Promotions and a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.
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.