The Rise of Donald Trump Could Be Great for Your Nonprofit (Even Huge)
Donald Trump has risen to power; as of last night, he is the Republican nominee for the president of the United States. To some, inexplicable. According to the mechanics of the human mind, however, perfectly reasonable.
Here’s why: Think back to when Trump pushed the birther thing. People with no alignment with Trump, but a deep distaste for President Barack Obama, supported that idea. They supported it in very public comments to others in person, often on social media, particularly Facebook.
Once a person self-identified on Facebook as someone in agreement with the "birther" idea, Facebook (predictably and algorithmically) began feeding that person more opportunities to comment on and share similar items. And people did. These folks displayed their opinions in other ways too—in conversation, in blogs, in interviews, etc.
Trump, when he announced his candidacy for president, provided people who liked those ideas with a multitude of opportunities to support them publicly. By supporting those ideas—which were attached to Trump—people aligned themselves inextricably to him.
At some point, these folks literally had no psychological choice but to support Trump. How does that work in your brain? And how can that be good for nonprofit?
Purely for the purpose of this dive into psychology, let’s assume that the folks supporting Trump have made a mistake. How difficult would it be for those people to change their minds? Almost impossible. In a classic experiment, two social psychologists, Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard, studied this very question. Deutsch and Gerard wanted to know how easy it is to get people to change their minds after finding out that they had made a wrong choice.
They also studied the conditions under which people would be more willing or reluctant to change their minds if they were shown that their judgment was proven to be incorrect. In short, they wanted to test:
- If people would change their minds if they were proven to be wrong.
- What conditions would make people apt to admit an error in judgement.
Deutsch and Gerard set up an experiment with college students. They broke the students into three groups, showed each group a set of lines, and asked them to estimate the lengths of the lines and record their answers.
- They asked the first group to estimate the lengths of the lines, privately, in their own minds.
- They asked the second group to record their answers on a device that allowed them to immediately erase what they wrote.
- They asked the third group to jot down their estimates on a piece of paper, sign it at the bottom and then hand it in.
The only difference in the three modes of answering the question was in how private the answers were.
The results? People in first group, who privately held their answers in their minds, were willing to accept their answers as being incorrect.
Those in the second group, whose answers were semi-private, (being written and then erased) were somewhat reluctant to change their minds.
But, by far, the group most resistant to changing their minds was the group who had jotted down their answers, signed the results and submitted the answers to the experimenter.
If you’ve read much of my work, you know that cognitive dissonance, self-perception theory and bias for consistency are frequent topics. They are at work here. But that is not for this blog.
For this blog, I leave you with the idea that Trump supporters, having overtly displayed their attitudes on Facebook, in interviews, in conversation, with yard signs, are now in the position in which the odds of changing are close to zero. If CNN and Fox News released evidence proving Trump were Satan, psychologically it would likely matter to only a handful of his supporters.
Reading this, some of you may feel uncomfortable—or worse. Let me at least offer this: You can use the same principles to benefit worthwhile causes. Here’s how. Elicit an attitude that benefits your nonprofit. Get people to say it loudly. Let them bask in the warm glow of unintended alignment. Then gratefully acknowledge their support, take it and go do good on their behalf.
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.