People are more generous when they feel more connected.
Like members of your community. Or, if you will, your family.
This isn’t just an opinion;
In fact, it’s documented in a study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The study found people have three basic psychological needs: relatedness, competence, and autonomy.
Today I want to examine relatedness and autonomy as they connect to success in fundraising.
Relatedness is particularly important for promoting pro-social behavior. Like philanthropy. The study found certain words — community, together, connected, and relationship — invoked feelings of relatedness.
Sharing feelings of relatedness also promotes pro-social behavior. This is why asking donors to share their own stories about why they volunteer, give or help in any other way is an effective fundraising strategy. Likewise, when you share with donors how you feel related to them this will make them feel good about how they’re affiliating with you.
4 Action Steps to Invoke Relatedness to Trigger Philanthropy
Here are strategies to engender feelings of being part of a family or community:
Use these power words in your nonprofit communications — community, together, connected, and relationship. Simply point out to your constituents that they’re very special “members,” and you’re all in this together working towards a shared purpose.
Bring like-minded donors and volunteers together to create community – If you have giving societies or monthly giving clubs, host all the “members of the family” for an in-person or virtual event where they can meet and network.
Ask donors and volunteers to share their stories — I often hosted volunteer and donor recognition events where the entire ‘program’ was having guests stand up and tell their reasons for being involved. This experience made them feel good, and inspired others to want to follow suit.
Let donors know how what they’re doing is creating a better community. Give specific examples of how their giving is not only helping individuals, but also contributing to the larger community welfare.
Let’s take a moment to also look at the basic psychological need for autonomy.
Donors who feel autonomous give more freely and passionately. And since autonomy is one of the three basic psychological needs you’re doing your donor a service if you can help them meet this need.
It’s important to give donors, and family members, a sense of control. Of course this doesn’t mean you allow them to run roughshod over your plans or alter your vision, diminish your mission, or corrupt your values in any way. So… what does it mean?
Treat donors as you would treat a beloved family member. Someone you care about. Someone to whom you are grateful. Someone in whom you want to engender a sense of competence, independence, purpose, connectedness and high self-esteem.
When people feel free to choose, compliance increases. People give more if told “do not feel obliged…” Autonomy, it turns out, is a powerful motivator. Think about children proudly saying “I can do it myself! Think about asking your teenager “could you water the lawn sometime today?” vs. “water the lawn or you can’t go out later.” Think about asking your spouse to help with a chore “at their convenience” vs. admonishing them to “do it right now!”
Knowing you don’t have to do something, but that it will make someone you care about happy, works better than guilt-inducing demands. The same holds true in fundraising. In fact, there are experiments showing the power of giving donors autonomy.
In Donor Autonomy on Steroids, Kevin Shulman writes for the Agitator-DonorVoice about how giving people control fosters high-quality motivation. He points to a surprising face-to-face test in which canvassers approached would-be donors asking “I wonder if you could help us by making a donation?” This was the ‘control.’ For the test condition the canvasser said, “You’ll probably refuse, but I wonder if you could help us by making a donation?” Researchers saw a 56% increase in the percentage of donors saying yes to the pitch that included the “you’ll probably refuse” preface. And the amount they gave was statistically the same as for those in the control group.
I absolutely thought the control would do better. After all, I constantly admonish fundraisers not to say “no” on behalf of others. Assume the best, I say, and folks will likely surprise you by following suit. But… the opposite happened here.
When you’re pushy, or use guilt, you trigger a psychological reaction called reactance. Peoples’ natural defenses kick in if you tell them what to do; they’ll often do the opposite. Especially if your demand is high pressure or guilt-inducing.
“When a person’s perceived freedom to choose is threatened by a pushy fundraiser, or even a high-energy fundraiser, or a guilt inducing appeal, it makes prospective donors resist the very thing we want them to do. In psychology this is called reactance. Make me feel pushed into a decision and I’ll resist like crazy, even if under other circumstance, I’d love to give.”
— Kevin Shulman, Agitator-DonorVoice
2 Action Steps to Invoke Autonomy to Trigger Philanthropy
Here are strategies to engender feelings of being in control
- Use the principle of reactance by carefully using a bit of reverse psychology. When you tell someone they’ll say “no,” their innate reactance kicks in and they may do the opposite. Partly this may be because they want to surprise you by being better than the negative impression you seem to have about them. This works best for donor acquisition; it’s not the best way to keep donors long term. That’s where it’s important to build a relationship based on more than psychological triggers (though these tools are useful, and certainly have their place).
- Give donors options for giving; don’t insist on unrestricted gifts. When you give people choices they’ll respond in greater numbers. You may disagree if you’re from a family where everyone told everyone else what they wanted for their birthday or holiday gift; then expected the giver to comply. Or if you came from a family where everyone just gave money. I come from a family where giving is usually more fun than receiving, so putting a lot of thought into the choice of the ‘perfect’ gift was more the norm. There were sometimes ‘misses,’ but generally we enjoyed the process the most when we managed to find precisely the gift that would (1) meet the recipient’s unique needs and personality, and (2) demonstrate the giver’s taste, talent and values.
Example: When my new grandson was on the way my kids listed a bunch of specific items they needed on a baby registry. They did not ask for “money to be applied where most needed.” Some people gave them money and gift cards, and these were certainly appreciated. Others gave them the exact gifts they’d asked for, so they’d no need to apply monetary gifts to these purchases. Finally, some givers (like the great grandma), decided she wanted to express her own values, and fondness for reading, by giving them a small collection of her favorite baby books. She went ‘off book’ (pun intended), but did not stray from the mission.
Why do I share this? IMHO the folks who earmarked their giving for specific gifts seem to feel more connected. I’ve heard them say things like: “I see they’re using the baby rocker I gave them a lot.” And “I’m super pumped about the play mobile we got him.” In other words, they feel connected. In fact, we distributed buttons at the virtual baby shower that said “Team Sebastian.” Everyone wanted one!
Giving is largely emotional.
What triggers emotions?
- People you can relate to.
- People you can imagine relating to.
When all is said and done, building a sense of family and community, and engaging people in a participatory experience, are the pre-conditions to raising money. There also the pre-conditions to sustaining philanthropy over the long-term.
Treating your donors like family means helping them feel good about giving. So good, in fact, they’ll want to sing your praises – and their own — to family, friends and neighbors.
And so, the circle of philanthropy — love of humanity — continues.
Want to Learn More about Offering Major Donors Autonomy?
Grab Major Gifts Matters – a Donor-Centered Cheat Sheet. Donors today want more hands-on involvement than last generation’s donors. They want choice. They won’t necessarily be content with earmarking their gift “for use where most needed.”
In this Cheat Sheet I answer the most Frequently Asked Questions about offering donors choices. It’s a great guideline for structuring your major donor giving program.
Photo by Rajiv Perera on Unsplash.