The Walk Is Dead (Again)
A long time ago, in a land far away, Otis and I wrote a blog titled, “The Walk Is Dead.” We didn’t mean it, of course. Reading it now, in COVID-19 world, makes me smile ruefully. We were on the right track, but we didn’t go hard enough. Looking back, things in peer-to-peer fundraising weren’t all that great. Only a few organizations were having big success (looking at you, Wendy Vizek and the Alzheimer’s Association). We should have been changing then. Our audiences told us they needed something different, using the language of low retention and difficult acquisition. We resisted because we had stuff in place. We had skills we wanted to use. Gosh darn it — we had BEST PRACTICES!
As I read it now, three years later, I know that the same truth holds — for our purposes, people need people, not entertainment. That’s not just our opinion; the need for belonging is supported by social science. And it may be even more true now because of the pandemic.
In 1995, social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary published a seminal paper in which they proposed that belonging was a fundamental human need. They argued that not only do humans need a sense of belonging, but we will “invest a great deal of time and effort in fostering supportive relationships with others.” Further, external threats (like COVID-19) can increase our tendency to bond with those around us.
A “walk” is simply a venue for connection. “Walk” used to be a word that helped us understand what to expect and the mechanics by which it worked. Now, we’re creating those constructs anew. Next year, your participants will have this year to look back at and say, “I know what to expect.” Hopefully, they will understand how your construct of connection — whatever you call it — will help them engage with others who care about the same things.
Now, we’re learning how to help people connect without the crutch of a high school track or a reserved park. We’re learning how to help them connect with different groups, like their immediate physical neighbors as we encourage hyper-local fundraising or their peer groups online. This is an opportunity to really hear them — to hear their need, their pain, their hope, their grief. Why not build the house they want to live in, as opposed to the one we want them to live in?
They need us now more than ever.
From the way-back machine… April 6, 2017:
Maybe it is time to accept that walk is dead. Maybe enough people have done walk that we just can’t attract enough participants. Maybe the digi-verse gives them a new way to fundraise, and they don’t need to face-to-face with each other. Maybe no amount of lipstick is going to dress up this pig.
“Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty” shows a decline in the top peer-to-peer events in the industry. Heads are rolling in peer-to-peer departments across the nation, and staff members are hopping like Mexican jumping beans from organization to organization, finding in the new venue exactly the fire they just left. Maybe it’s not the people; maybe it’s not the effort.
I was on the telephone with a person in charge of a lot of peer-to-peer revenue. I asked, “Is walk dead?”
The answer was half snort, half chuckle. We were in agreement.
The walk as a fundraising medium is only in decline because we have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. In our quest to make walk bigger and better, we’ve been drawn away from its primary draw — as a way for us to be in close emotional and physical proximity to those who are like us. In designing around entertainment instead of connection, we have caused the decline ourselves.
Walk is not about walking; it is about humans connecting to each other. A walk is just a gathering. It is a party. It is a church service. It is a club. It is a parade. It is a dinner. It is all of those things. All of these things share one thing in common. Walk is a way to gather with clear expectations what will happen and who will be there. It is an event where my emotional need to be with my people is met. Walk means gather.
Walk is a way to set expectations about what will happen that day. It is like etiquette — an artificial construct set to help people know how to behave and what to expect. Walk is like going into a McDonalds in any city in the U.S. You know what to expect. While variations on walk can make the experience better or worse, I still know it is a walk, and at McDonalds, I still know I can get a Big Mac and a Diet Coke with fries anytime, anywhere.
A walk is a community and an opportunity for people to surround themselves with others who share something in common. With walks sponsored by health-care nonprofits, this is often a medical condition affecting themselves or a family member.
Across a wide range of experiences, people choose to be with those who are like themselves. Research has shown that people with similar beliefs, values and interests tend to stick together. When given a choice, they choose to interact socially with like-minded people. A study published in Group Processes & Intergroup Relations concluded that people seek out others who are similar to them because their interactions are “smoother and more pleasant.” This is the same experience they enjoy in their communities of family and friends.
As long as humans need to gather, need to heal, need to be heard and seen, need to grieve, need to give, there will be walk — whatever we call it.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
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.