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!
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.