Logistics Company Versus Volunteers
At Turnkey, "incentive" is a dirty word.
We know, through our work over almost 30 years, that if we are attempting to elicit a behavior through enticement or incentive, we are on a bad path. If a person is exhibiting the behavior we desire (like fundraising) in order to get something (like a really nice gift), we have a problem. The problem we have is that the person’s behavior will stop when the reward goes away, or even sometimes when the reward does not escalate. We call that being extrinsically motivated; the relationship is transactional. The behavior is reliant on the reward.
On the other hand, if we give someone a reason to perform a behavior that allows the person to reflect his or her intrinsic motivation (we honor the individual on stage or we give a low-value gift symbolic of his or her commitment), we know that recognition will cause the behaviors to escalate with no "incentive."
That same powerful motivator, providing someone with a way to reflect his or her intrinsic reason to support your cause, can save you lots of money.
Psychologists have a term for this—they call it the "less leads to more effect." Recently, I had a client question the power of an on-site mission experience at the client's signature walk. The client was curious about the impact of having something like a memory/honor garden, a place where participant walkers would place commemorative items. This garden would be interactive and would provide an emotional point of high engagement. That is a great idea and will help people solidify their own self-labels through the interactions the experience provides and emotions evoked in that manner. I responded, "I’m all for that!" Then the client let me know that the organization was considering having a logistics company run the activity.
That, I am not all for.
A logistics company would do a great job running a memory/honor garden. My client’s life would be easier if the organization hired a logistics company to do it. It likely would go off without a glitch. But there are opportunity costs to using a logistics company instead of volunteers to run such an activity.
If you have a volunteer leadership group, own the creation, planning and administration of that activity. You can also benefit from the solidification of that leadership group's self labels through those leadership activities. The nonprofit would provide those leadership volunteers with a way to reflect and solidify their own reasons for engaging with the nonprofit in the first place.
Hiring an event company to do "fulfillment" would have huge opportunity costs in terms of volunteer ownership and, thus, alignment with the mission. The monies my client is considering putting toward an event logistics company could instead be spent on managing volunteers, and funding their activity, which would fuel their connections and undoubtedly result in higher retention and greater fundraising.
Is using volunteers messy? Yes. Does the staff person’s job duties change from "hire logistics company" (with no attitude, no fuss, high professionalism) to "empower volunteers to take ownership of this idea"? Yes, it does change the staff person’s duties. And sometimes staff is not equipped for this change, especially when leadership does not acknowledge the difference in execution method and reset performance expectations accordingly.
High staff performance, if using volunteers, looks like "engaged 94 volunteers to own this idea and execute it." That the activity goes off without a hitch is the lesser part of success because the staff person would already have excelled through recruitment and management of volunteers whose lifetime value will skyrocket through the experience.
Using volunteers as boots on the ground, messy though it may be, allows those volunteers to get closer to your organization.
Cuddle up, little dove.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.