Little Boys and Stolen Lunches
One day in 1968 a little boy with blue eyes took the lunch of a little boy with brown eyes. Why? Because blue eyes are better and he could.
What’s that blather? Is it bullying? Is it prejudice? Is it ignorance? Yes, to all, but most importantly, it is ingroup bias. This bias is important to understand if you are raising money.
Americans (and people in general) are generous by nature. We experience a well-documented and scientifically relevant response that scientists call the “warm glow” effect when we give. But, is the warm glow effect dependent on the object of our giving? Is any act of largess enough to provoke that warm glow, or does it depend on whom we are pointing our generosity towards? Predictably, it’s complicated.
While people are generous to others, their giving is strongly biased towards how much they perceive others to be like them. Psychologists describe this as the “ingroup-outgroup” effect. People like us are our "ingroup," and people not like us are our "outgroup." We are powerfully, sometimes woefully, affected by how we perceive ourselves in relation to certain groups.
In-group favoritism has been shown to occur based on many types of groupings, such as ethnicity, religiosity and political affiliation. Social psychologists have conducted thousands of studies on the topic, but one of the most compelling demonstrations of ingroup-outgroup bias was done in 1968 by Jane Elliott, a third-grade teacher in Iowa.
To address the idea of racial prejudice, Elliott divided her class of 7-year-olds and 8-year-olds into two groups on the basis of their eye color. As profiled in the 1985 PBS documentary, “A Class Divided,” the brown-eyed children became targets of discrimination from the “better” blue-eyed children, sometimes being sadistically ridiculed and shunned. Later, she reversed the scenario and the blue-eyed children suffered at the hands of those with brown eyes.
This can be pretty discouraging stuff. If there is any good news, it is this: Thoughtful positioning of messaging that appeals to a person’s sense of being part of a group can increase the likelihood that they will lend their support. There are lots of examples… Half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 per day. Living on $2.50 per day is not ingroup with almost anyone in a position to give, unless we position it as, “a mother just like you struggles to keep her family fed every day.” Or, how about presenting “the face of opioid addiction” as a 65-year old white grandpa; opioid addiction is a problem cuts across all demographic lines.
We can’t change human nature, but with some rhetorical Jiu Jitsu, we can harness it for good. We can take the same bias that causes us to take each other’s lunches and use it to raise money for equality, better health, cures and so much more.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a new book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
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 degrees in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and 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.