Influence in direct marketing: authority at work

I debated whether to do this one.  I have a bit of an anti-authority, and a definite anti-authoritarian, streak.  When you read about authority as a form of influence, you can delve into some very dark parts of what it is to be human.  There are famous Milgram experiments, where people generally gave shocks to a test subject to the point that the person would be in severe pain or dead just because they were told to.  And the Stanford prison experiments show “absolute power corrupts absolutely” isn’t just an aphorism to be stitched onto the world’s most off-putting throw pillow.

But authority is a form of influence.  And it’s one that nonprofits can and should wield.  After all, quite frequently, nonprofits are experts within their own realms and those with great expertise serve on their boards and as volunteers.

Testimonials in various forms can help validate your nonprofit in the minds of your supporters.  Some of that, as mentioned earlier in the week, can and should be from individuals who support your individuals as close to your target audience as possible.  But an authority pitch, with external validators, can be helpful as well.

So can burnishing your credentials.  One test to run online is whether an online security badge can increase your donation form activations (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t).  A seal from the BBB can likewise be tested (just don’t use your Charity Navigator perfect score – that isn’t a badge of honor).

Talking about influential donors can also help.  Dean Karlan and John List did a study that found two things.  The first, no surprise, was that a matching gift increases response rates.  The second was that identifying the matching donor as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (versus an anonymous matching donor) increased response rates by over 20%.  This effect also lasted past the matching period, which is unusual for often ephemeral nonprofit solicitation.

This would tend to indicate that the Gates authority is rubbing off on the nonprofit they are supporting and that their authority is a signifier for other donors.  Celebrities can also be a nice validator for certain audiences.

Finally, a successful authority technique that I’ve seen is to send copies of positive editorials or stories about a nonprofit’s impact to donors.  It’s one thing for a nonprofit to tell you how great they are and how great you are for making their work possible.  It’s another thing for an unbiased external source validating your choice in cause.

So that’s authority.  I hope you’ll join us for the scarcity discussion tomorrow.  It’s the last in the influence series, so you’ll want to be sure to read it.

(Yes, of course I planned the scarcity post as the last one.  Why do you ask?)

Influence in direct marketing: authority at work