Retail-Unattractive Walks: Why They Rock
I have been like a dog on a bone about something lately. Eyes roll back in heads, dinner guests vanish when it comes up again. And here it is—the leading attribute.
A leading attribute is the first thing you say about someone or something, the most important (in your own mind) adjective associated with that person or thing.
Examples of leading attributes are below. First the thing, and then the leading attribute:
- Insect/number of legs
- Peer-to-peer event/________
The peer-to-peer event leading attribute is the nemesis of those in conversation with me. I just can’t let it go because I believe we are using the wrong leading attribute about peer-to-peer events, and that mistake is having a huge, negative impact on our results.
We use these as leading attributes for peer-to-peer events:
All of these leading attributes relate to the activity in which our peer-to-peer participants are engaged. This attribute is specifically about what their bodies are doing, which manifests as the culminating event at the end of the fundraising time period. I question whether we should be using that particular attribute. Here is why.
If an activity is available and selling well on the retail market, and we present it in the form of a fundraiser, my experience is that the participants in it behave differently. While not 100 percent true, many of these participants in a retail-successful activity are not connected to the mission being supported. These participants are simply buying their experience through their fundraising. It’s a pretty good deal, too. "I get my experience. I get other people to pay for it. I feel pretty good about it. I fundraise to the exact level required, then I quit." In this example, the leading attribute is “retail-successful.” But our industry categorizes it by the activity, like “marathon.” We don’t build best practices around the type of participant produced by the leading attribute of retail-attractive events.
Let’s take another example: the walk. No one is selling the opportunity to go and walk a couple of miles. No one is selling it because no one would buy it; you can do it for free. But, walks generate the majority of peer-to-peer fundraising in the U.S. The participants in a walk are more mission-connected. I say this without data, but with utter confidence. Why? Because there is no other reason to show up. I don’t need a nonprofit to put on a walk in order for me to go walk. As a result, these participants fundraise to the point where whatever is inside them is fulfilled by their action.
The leading attribute for a walk should be “retail-unattractive” and not “walk,” because the participants’ mission-connectedness, which is caused by the lack of retail attractiveness of a walk, is what determines their behavior. The activity’s lack of retail attractiveness filters potential participants. What results is a very high percentage of mission-connected participants. But, we in the industry categorize this retail-unattractive activity with the leading attribute of “walk” when the leading attribute around which we design best practices should be “retail-unattractive,” which would produce more logical and effective best practices. We can think harder and perform better.
I will cease and desist so that your leading attribute for me isn’t “boring.”
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.