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.
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.