Recognition: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
At Turnkey we use the word “recognition” a lot. But other people use other words like “appreciation," "acknowledgment," "thanks,” and such. These words really all mean the same thing. To quote the film"Avatar," they mean, “I see you.” And, as corny and weird as that sounds, these words wrap around a human impulse that is powerful, quantifiable and which can be weaponized, for lack of a better word.
Often, the beloved, Otis Fulton—our behavioral specialist and my hubby—says, “Sometimes these techniques can seem a bit Machiavellian, but we are using it for good. And, we know that if we succeed, people are measurably happier." Economist Daniel Pink’s research on motivation shows that the happiest, most satisfied among us are people who have found a sense of purpose, the sense that what they do serves something meaningful beyond their own self interest, to society at large. So providing the opportunity for people to become involved in something that transcends their lives is really an invitation to become more fulfilled through their connection to a purpose and to each other.
The idea that people would value a sense of connection to others so highly should come as no surprise to us. Humans have evolved to seek out connections. 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. In his recent book "Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect," psychologist Matthew Lieberman said, “…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.” So we are all born with an antenna that is fine-tuned to how others are responding to us—recognizing us. As it turns out, we don’t even have to know them for their recognition to be rewarding.
So social scientists know recognition is powerful. But how would one measure the power of recognition? There are a variety of ways to try, but often it is hard because other variables are not held constant. In the peer-to-peer world, you can apply and measure a recognition program, but those results could be impacted by, for example, a new event staff person, or the weather, or the email platform’s success in delivering communications, or any number of things. The different ways to measure can include year-over-year overall results, the behaviors of those responding to recognition versus those who don’t, or even the percent of people who want recognition in whatever form it is delivered.
But there is one way that we feel is the best at giving a true measure of the power of recognition. In this method we consider recognition as both a device to encourage fundraising, and to measure intrinsic attachment to an organization’s mission. Here’s how it works:
- Apply recognition gift program to entire peer-to-peer audience in the form of email messaging offers of recognition for levels of fundraising achievement.
- At an end point, offer recognition gift to entire gift-earning audience.
- One year later, measure the performance of the individuals who earned recognition and wanted it, vs. those who earned recognition and didn’t.
When we did this, we found out that people who responded by accepting the recognition come back to fundraise again more often and at even higher levels. Cool huh? Find out more at Turnkey's upcoming webinar.
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.