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.
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.