Right Message, Right Time Means Big ROI
One of the tools that we use at Turnkey to recognize fundraisers for our various clients is called “behaviorally triggered email campaigns,” or BTEC. BTEC messages recognize what a supporter has done in real-time, like raise $150 for the mission. It also “pushes” them towards the next fundraising milestone—for example, raising $250. Raising $250 will trigger another message to them. The real-time aspect of BTEC is important. It gives people the sense that what they are doing is being acknowledged by the nonprofit. It is similar to how you would engage in a real email exchange with a friend or a colleague.
Recently, a client questioned the value of BTEC. It is more expensive to set up and implement than static messages sent on specific dates. They wanted to know about its ROI, which is a reasonable question. So, we set up a test where some of their fundraisers would be put in a BTEC group, while others would only receive messages that didn’t respond to their individual behaviors. We called this the “newsletter” group. The newsletter group received static information every week or two about the event they were fundraising for and the mission of the nonprofit.
We were convinced that the BTEC group would raise significantly more funds than the newsletter group. We asked our client what they considered to be a success with regards to the difference in the amount of funds raised by the BTEC group compared to the newsletter group. The client considered 50 percent more to be a success, which would represent a significant ROI in a BTEC program.
The results were dramatic. Fundraisers in the newsletter group raised an average of $138, while the BTEC group raised an average of $413—three times the amount raised by those not receiving behaviorally-triggered messaging. Our test showed that the right message sent at the right time is a key motivator for fundraisers’ behavior.
In a recent blog, we wrote about the anatomy of recognition messages. Like in a conversational email with a friend, they need to be short. Their brevity makes it important to carefully craft the content to get most out of each word.
One of the psychological principles that we build into the messaging is taken from the research of Harvard’s University’s Teresa Amabile. Her work focuses on the workplace, but is directly applicable to people who volunteer to fundraise on behalf of nonprofits.
In her book, “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work,” she talks about the motivating influence of progress. As Amabile says in the book:
“Progress is powerful. Encourage people to reflect on how far they’ve come and the good work they’ve done. That’s not indulgent or fluffy—persistent people spend twice as long thinking about their accomplishments.”
The takeaway is that when communicating with fundraisers, the messaging should emphasize what they have already accomplished. For example, here is part of a message to a fundraiser who has raised $150 for an organization that combats world hunger:
“We see you’re off and running with your fundraising! Here’s an example of why your support is so important… Relief Fund provides basic needs like food and school supplies to people in need around the world. Raising just $150 for Relief Fund provides 10 school kits packed with supplies to help children get the best start in life. Where else can $150 do so much? “
Often, our messaging focuses on pushing the fundraiser to the next level, but it is more motivating to focus on their accomplishment. When comparing people who tend to give up easily with people who tend to carry on (even through difficult challenges), researchers find that persistent people spend twice as much time thinking, not about what has to be done, but about what they have already accomplished, the fact that the task is doable and that they are capable of it.
This is in line with what psychologists know about the things that make people happy. We know that a consistent amount of minor success produces much more happiness than occasionally bagging an elephant. In other words, “frequency beats intensity.” Life satisfaction is 22 percent more likely for those with a steady stream of minor accomplishments than those who express interest only in major accomplishments.
We often get caught up trying to figure out how to motivate, “inspire” our supporters. It turns out that the thing we can do to inspire them most is to congratulate them for what they’ve already done.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a new book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
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 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 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.