Babies can teach you the same thing.
If one baby does something, the others will want to ape them.
“Monkey see, monkey do.”
This is actually a psychological principle of influence and persuasion known as “social proof.”
It’s best explored in the 1984 groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini. He outlines six principles of influence affecting human behaviors. They’re all well documented, and can be incredibly useful to fundraisers.
One of the most useful principles is the one we also know today as the “Yelp effect.” It’s a type of positive (or negative) word of mouth that can make or break your business. I know how often I’ve abandoned my cart after reading a negative review. You?
Word of mouth is perhaps the most powerful form of social media you can find, so it pays to leverage it to your advantage.
Even someone inclined to support your cause may not give unless you push the right buttons. Of all the ways to do that, social proof is among the easiest and most successful.
Social Proof Can Do Your Heavy Lifting
Word of mouth, or testimonial, has been called the “original social media platform.” There’s a famous Faberge commercial showing a woman who “told 2 friends” about the product and how “they told 2 friends … and so on … and so on.” According to Nielsen’s most recent “Trust in Advertising” report, 89% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.
When you say your organization rocks, who really believes you?
When someone else says the same thing (e.g., a friend, respected leader, client, volunteer, donor, authoritative influencer or admired celebrity), that’s another ballgame entirely. Their independent seal of approval acts as a decision-making shortcut, helping resolve any doubts your organization is top notch and worthy of investment.
Consider what happens in a donor’s head when they’re asked to make a philanthropic gift.
They do a little dance in their heads. Think of it as the ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ Tango. They’ll asked themselves: “Based upon what I know now, should I make this gift? Or shouldn’t I?” The consideration is not just about money. It’s a broader cost/benefit consideration. Part of the cost may simply be looking like a chump. Not doing due diligence and feeling stupid. Folks will hesitate and hesitate; then hesitate some more. Until they… Know enough. Trust you. Trust themselves. Completely.
How to Leverage the Power of Social Proof
One of the best things about word of mouth is it is a form of storytelling. And, as an attention-grabbing, engrossing communication medium, there is nothing better than a story! It turns out human beings are wired for storytelling. Stories naturally draw us in. We want to pay attention, and we want to envision ourselves as part of the story.
With testimonials, we envision ourselves doing the same thing the testifier is doing. Be it using a great product, eating a fabulous meal, becoming a part of a social movement, or investing in a campaign to help a neighbor or solve a pressing problem. If the testifier can do it, and says it’s a good thing, then we can do it too!
Here is your three-step leveraging plan:
- Collect testimonials.
- Determine how and where you’ll share them.
- Sprinkle testimonials across all your messaging channels, offline and online.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.
1. Find Your Alpha Monkeys
Monkeys, most animals, and humans, have a hierarchy. In terms of who is most influential with your constituents, your nonprofit has one as well. Every nonprofit is different. A lot depends on your cause. A lot depends also on your constituency.
- Who has influence around your vision, mission and values? When I worked at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, we found Mommy and Food bloggers inspired the most followers, because they truly cared about good nutrition for all. We developed relationships with them, and they often carried our messages to their networks.
- Who has influence with your constituents, or segments of your constituents? Take a look at the demographics of your audience(s). If you have a preponderance of GenZ you’ll probably want a different spokesperson than if you have a preponderance of Boomers. Also take a look at the interest areas of your supporters. People who give to your senior services will look to different authorities than those who give to your children’s services. And so on.
- Who has a lot of authority in your community, and is already a supporter? When you find these folks, make a plan to reach out to them and see if they’ll agree to shooting a brief video, be featured in a story, or simply offer a quote you can share. Grab these tips on the do’s and don’ts of using celebrity endorsers.
Once you determine your best messengers, ask them to send you testimonials via survey, interview or correspondence. Begin by making a list of all the common objections you receive. Then ask your messengers to address these objections head-on with their testimonials. Or consider sending a survey simply (1) asking users of services to rate your programs with stars, or (2) asking for feedback on an event or volunteer experience. Check out this great article on collecting testimonials from Nancy Schwartz on Network for Good. Collect these testimonials and store them in a “testimonial bank” so you can use them wherever and whenever needed. You can segment the testimonials by category (e.g., “What our students say;” “What our supporters say,” “What volunteers say,” “What grateful patients say,” “What dog adopters say,” and so forth).
2. Review Your Marketing Channels
Make a list of all the places where you talk about your vision, mission and values. Consider how you might incorporate the views of others into these channels, so it’s not just you talking. People will often be more receptive to the opinions of others.
- On your website, fundraising and donation landing pages: Rather than saying “we do this, that and the other thing,” consider substituting an “alpha monkey” who says “they do this that and the other thing, and they do it better than anyone else!”
- In your annual report, newsletter, fundraising appeal and other print materials: Where might you add in little “stories,” delivered by third parties, testifying to your value?
- In your thank you letters: What about adding a P.S. stating “The words of those helped by your gift (see reverse) convey better than can I the importance of your generous support.”
- In your emails, social media and text messaging: Incorporate a brief third-party endorsement, or include a link to “hear what [influencer’s name] has to say.”
- At your events: Include supporter and/or client testimonials as part of your speaking program and/or video presentation.
Once you determine your best channels for sharing, sit down with co-workers to determine some of the best ways to use these channels to deliver testimonial proof of your organization’s value and impact. Besides using their words, consider adding headshots and/or photos of what they describe to capture even greater interest.
3. Make a Strategic Testimonial Share Plan
Whatever your goal, be it acquiring new donors, launching monthly giving, initiating peer-to-peer DIY fundraising pages, selling event tickets, encouraging tribute giving or promoting an advocacy campaign, social proof can do the heavy lifting that takes a potential supporter from “I’m not sure” to “I’m all in!”
Once you’ve proactively sought out testimonials, the next step is to be energetic about using them! And that’s why you need a plan.
Like with any other strategic plan, begin with goals (why), add measurable objectives (how), layer in strategies (what, where) and finish with specific tactics (who, when). Plan to keep the testimonials short, concise and to-the-point most of the time. If you have long ones, you can use them for blog posts or newsletter articles.
Among my favorite sharing strategies are:
- Social Media: People pay attention to numbers of likes, shares, follows and comments. So, find your influencers and empower your peeps to share their passion for your cause with their online networks by giving them great visuals and fun/interesting messages to share!
- Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Fundraising: Once you’ve built your tribe of satisfied stakeholders, let them do the talking for you. P2P fundraising puts your organization in touch with new donors at little to no cost. It’s an awesome donor acquisition tool. Volunteer fundraisers expand your army of askers and broaden your circle of influence. You’re suddenly able to find donors you’d never otherwise have had access to.
- Webpage Impact Videos: When someone speaks directly to you, letting you know what an awesome experience they had, it’s powerful. This is especially true when the person speaking is someone who was helped – thanks to the power of philanthropy.
Put your plan in writing, and be sure to share and review all elements with stakeholders who will be responsible for assuring it is carried out.
Don’t Let Social Proof be an Afterthought
The validation of third parties can be hugely influential and shouldn’t be left to chance. If your tendency is towards introversion or humility, that’s okay. But hiding your nonprofit’s light under a bushel won’t garner you the support you need to survive and thrive.
So don’t shy away from asking for a little help from your friends. That’s what they’re there for!
When you show you’ve got a large community behind you, you attract a crowd. You also demonstrate your trustworthiness. Use testimonials everywhere. On your website. In your annual report. In your newsletter. In your appeals. In your thank you letters. Whenever you can leverage the opinion of a third party to tell a prospective new donor the option they’re considering is a good one, this short-cuts their decision-making process. That’s a good thing.
Photo by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash