A Parent’s Guide to Motivating Fundraisers
I am lucky to work with smart people. Recently I overheard an employee talking about how she is helping her grandchild achieve diaper freedom. I was struck by the conversation and asked her to draw a comparison between potty training and motivating volunteer fundraising. She did not blink, “Yep, got it.” I give you Vickie LoBello, formerly of the American Cancer Society Relay For Life and St. Baldrick’s Foundation:
I know that a lot of millennials have become moms and dads over the past few years—16 million moms to be specific.
My daughter’s 3-year-old is going through this process. My daughter did her research and mapped out her plan and then we began together. Her plan was a combination of rewards and recognition. The rewards were food and toys. The recognition were things that the potty trainee identified would be important to him like calling family, so we could tell him we were proud and getting to "big boy" milestones that would ultimately lead to attendance at preschool.
In the end, the recognition piece was more desirable than the rewards. I began getting two to five FaceTime calls a day, wherein he would tell me his latest accomplishments. He would then wait patiently for what he wanted to hear: "I am so proud of you! You are getting to be such a big boy.
This may all sound familiar to you if you have read this blog or have met practically anyone from Turnkey for even the briefest period of time. (We tend to talk about recognition a lot!)
I know that recognition is the most impactful approach for motivating fundraisers, as I have worked in peer-to-peer fundraising for over 25 years. I should have known that this would be the key area of impact for my grandson. I just didn’t make the connection until recently.
Humans are hard wired to respond to recognition. To put it simply, our ancestors who were most sensitive to the feedback of their group were the ones who survived (try making it out on the African Savanna without a little help from your friends). The recognition my grandson received in praise is really the same thing as being recognized as part of a group.
In his recent book, "Social, Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect" psychologist Matthew Lieberman writes, "Our brains crave the positive evaluation of others almost to an embarrassing degree. It is easy to imagine [feeling rewarded by] positive feedback from the people who matter most to us, but would social feedback from complete strangers have the same effect? Surprisingly, yes."
We are all born with antennae finely tuned to how others are responding to us: They recognize us. And it turns out we don’t even have to know the person for their recognition to be rewarding.
Some parents induce cooperation by offering rewards for using the toilet. While this method does work on occasion, it can be rather risky as it reinforces the child’s idea that success is related to getting a treat, rather than becoming a "big boy." I don’t say this condescendingly—we are all children at heart. Your fundraisers will respond to becoming big boys and girls without needing valuable treats.
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.