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.”
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.