The Social Science Behind Peer-to-Peer Fundraising, Branding and Doing Good
What if we are making the world a better place by simply trying to raise money?
At Turnkey, we talk a lot about trying to get people to behave in a certain way. "Certain way" for us means "raising money." Research into this space sometimes takes interesting turns.
We know that we are trying to create an intrinsic label in our prospective fundraisers and grow it in our current fundraisers. To do that we do things like putting our brand on our successful fundraisers because we know that branding the person reinforces the intrinsic label that people have as a person who supports "x."
But here's an interesting thing. In our quest to get people to raise more money, we might be making them nicer people. This is the latest social science treasure that the Turnkey resident neuropsychologist, Otis Fulton, noted to me (yelled from the kitchen).
Otis pointed me at Arthur Brooks' New York Times opinion piece to illustrate the point. Brooks does a far better job than I will describing this well-documented and researched phenomenon. In summary, when Brooks put a Mormon-branded briefcase in his hand, it made him behave in a different way because he was thusly branded.
While carrying the briefcase on a business trip he found himself behaving more in line with what he perceived a Mormon standard might be: "... helping people more with luggage, giving up my place in line, that sort of thing. I was unconsciously trying to live up to the high standards of Mormon kindness, or at least not besmirch that well-earned reputation."
Imagine what we peer-to-peer fundraisers are accomplishing as we brand the general public via participation in our activities. Are people out there not smoking because they are in an American Lung Association jacket? Correct. Are people being kind to the intellectually disabled because they are in a Best Buddies hat? Yeppers. Is there some teenager out there setting his lunch tray down beside another lonely kid because she looks depressed, wearing his Out of the Darkness American Foundation of Suicide Prevention shirt? Of course he is!
To not behave in accordance with the brand you are sporting makes your brain unhappy.
My people, we rock the science of do-gooding.
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 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.