Building awareness versus actually doing something

OK, that headline is harsher than I meant it.  Awareness is a necessary and useful precondition for many nonprofits.  Using an example I know well, drunk driving was a late-night joke just a few decades ago.  It took awareness activities to alert a nation to the fact that it is an unnecessary, tragic, and violent crime.

But does raising awareness sell?  That is, do people want to donate money to raise awareness about an issue or organization?  Or do they want to fund efforts to remediate wrongs directly?  Robert Smith and Norbert Schwarz wanted to find out.

Actually, being good scientists, they wanted to analyze donor’s metacognition about awareness activities vis-à-vis whether the cause was already in the donor consideration set.  Which means the same thing when you translate it into English.

They found three major things:

  • When people knew more about a charity and its work, they were more likely to donate to it and the more they were likely to donate.  The researchers actually manipulated this knowledge in a cool way. They asked subjects questions about what they had read about a charity, but there were two sets of questions: an easy one and a hard one.  The people who got the easy set of questions and thus thought they knew more about the subject were more likely to donate.
  • This result reversed when the charity was engaging in awareness activities.  That is, if people thought they knew all about the charity and its aims (that is, they got the easy questions), they were less likely to want to invest in the charity’s efforts to raise awareness.
  • Looking at actual donations (not just intent to give), people gave far more to help than to raise awareness when they knew a lot about a cause.  They gave slightly more to help raise awareness when they didn’t think they knew a lot about a cause.

This makes a good bit of sense.  If you think the average person (which people usually consider to be a slightly dumber version of themselves) knows about something, why would donate money to raise awareness?  On the flip side, if you felt there was a story that was undertold, that people needed to hear, you might ante up.

This has a major implication for nonprofits as they mature: what got you here won’t get you where you are going.  In the infancy stage of a nonprofit, it is acceptable simply to point at a problem and say “this is a problem; we need to get more people like you to acknowledge the problem.”  However, as nonprofits mature and people are aware of the issue the cause represents, it needs either to adjust its fundraising efforts to focus on what it is doing to solve the problem or to find more obscure areas of its cause to reenergize its donor base.

This also has implications for donor communications: there’s a difference between what you talk about to acquire a donor and to retain one.  That is, people who are your supporters know you and your issues (or, at least, think they do).  They don’t want to support awareness activities for things they think people already know about.  On the other hand, people who are new to your organization may be willing to chip in to help spread the word.

So remember your audience when you are pitching both helping and awareness activities for greater results.

Building awareness versus actually doing something

Time value of donations: I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a warm feeling today

Are you ready to increase your monthly donations?  Can you wait until two months from now?

It’s time for a week of studies of nonprofit direct marketing.  This has quickly become one of the favorite types of post on the blog, so if you don’t want to miss the entries later in the week on ask strings, matching gifts, when to ask to support awareness activities and more, please sign up for my free weekly newsletter.

Today’s study comes to us from Anna Breman of the Stockholm School of Economics (it’s not actually a great school of economics, but the longer they keep you there, the more you believe it is*).

In it, she tries a unique approach to increasing monthly donations that, since the title of the paper is Give More Tomorrow, you can probably guess worked.

 

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Wimpy, Patron Saint of the Time Value of Money

The experiment takes advantage of one of those cognitive biases or heuristics we are always yammering on about (explanation of heuristics here).  In this case, being human means that you prefer immediate benefits and delayed costs.  This is why diets start tomorrow, plasma TVs trump retirement savings, and dentists ask you to commit to a time to come back rather than trusting that one day you will feel like a dentist visit.  It’s also why, in a famous experiment with children, the pull of one marshmallow now is strong even when there is a promise of two marshmallows later.

So what if you could commit future-you to making a monthly donation, but present-you doesn’t have to feel the pain?  It makes a lot of sense, given Benartzi and Thaler’s experience with a Save More Tomorrow plan that successfully asked employees to commit a portion of their future pay raises to savings.

Breman worked with a Swedish charity Diakonia** and their existing bank of monthly donors.  In one group, they asked their sustainers to increase their monthly donation now.  In the other, they asked sustainers to increase their monthly donation in two months.

The increase in donations was 32% more in the group asked to increase their donations in two months.  Part of this was an increase in average donation (19%) and part was an increase in the frequency of donation rate (11%).

And, looking back, the treatment donors were no more likely to cancel or decrease their monthly donation than the control group.  In fact, the long-run effect was slightly higher than the short-run effect.

This seems like a tactic that is easily implemented on the phone.  It would be harder online if you are using an out-of-the-box online solution.  I won’t mention any names (*cough*cough*BlackbaudLuminate*cough*cough*), but some programs are so inflexible you can’t even schedule monthly donations to be processed on a specific date each month, as is common practice for monthly donations.

While the study did not ask this question, I would also wager than donors who increased their giving months down the road were also happier with their decision as a result.  It’s quite common to have stress reactions to charitable asks (even when one wants to give) and knowing that you don’t have to give now in order to have the impact that you want could be soothing.

The next test, I would argue, for academia is whether this technique also works for monthly donor acquisition/conversion.  It would seem that the same logic would apply, but I don’t know of anyone who has tested it.

So, if you are among the bold and fortunate few, can I prevail upon you to share your experience in the comments or to email me at nick@directtodonor.com so that I might illuminate your fellow readers (and myself)?  Thanks in advance and hope you enjoyed reading.


* I just couldn’t help myself for this joke.  I apologize for that joke to you the audience, Anna Breman, the Stockholm School of Economics, any former or current hostages, the people of Stockholm and Sweden, people of Scandinavian extraction, and people who drive Volvos or have Ikea furniture.  Also to Tom Hanks.  He knows why.

** I should also apologize to Diakonia, which does really good work on sustainable development around the world.

Time value of donations: I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a warm feeling today

“Our donors” and channel conflict

According to psychological studies, human territoriality is a multifaceted concept that includes physical space, possession, defense, exclusiveness of use, markers, and personalization.   

giphyI think of Milton from Office Space.  He possesses his personalized red stapler in his tiny cubicle fortress than he does not want to leave and eventually fights to defend. 

How often are we like this with our donors?

Even the phrase “our donors” is illusory.  A donor no more belongs to your organization than I belong to Google just because I am dependent on their search engine and mail programs for even the most basic forms of knowledge seeking and human interactions, respectively.

OK, bad example.  But you get the idea.

A donor doesn’t really belong to your organization; they are free to leave at any time (and frequently do).  

And they certainly don’t belong to any one aspect of your organization.

Yet we aim to possess donors, erect walls for their defense from other types of fundraisers, even mark our territory on them.

The thing that got me thinking about this is Joshua Benton’s excellent piece with NiemanLab about NPR’s decision not to promote the NPR One app or its podcasts on its terrestrial radio stations. 

They will not ask for any downloads or mention podcast hosts in a way that would be seen as an endorsement.

Part of this is understandable.  Radio stations pay the bulk of NPR’s bills.  These stations want to hold on to their share of ear and make sure that people listen to radio stations.  They exert pressure; NPR folds.

But this feels very much like the classic Theodore Levitt article about Marketing Myopia:

 

The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones) but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer oriented…

 

OK, a virtual show of hands.  Who thinks that NPR’s long-term future is in traditional radio-wave-based radio?  OK…  OK… thanks.  Hands down.  

Now who thinks their long-term future is in online radio, podcast, and things we haven’t even thought of yet?  OK… OK… keep them up… there are a lot of you to count…

Yep.  Exactly.  Yet because of territoriality, they mortgage the future for the present.

So what business is NPR in?  Are they in the radio business?  Or are they in the informational (or entertainment or thought-provoking) business?

The same is true for your nonprofit.  You put up barriers to protect your walk donors from being over-solicited or make sure your major donor prospect don’t get mail pieces that might soil their hands.  You make sure that national/local doesn’t get their stinkin’ mitts on “your donors” because that money should stay local/national.  As if it matters which pocket gets filled.

In what business are you in your direct marketing?  If you are not in the loving-donors-and-being-loved-by-donors business, might you be in the wrong business?  If a $20 mail donor becomes a $500 walk team captain, and that fills that donor up with warmth, do you view that as a $20 loss?  Then you are in the wrong business.

So this week, we’ll try to explode some myths about “our donors.”  They are not only your nonprofit’s donors.  They are not permanently destined to stay in a single channel.  They are not national’s or local’s.  They can be communicated with both personally and through direct marketing.  And so on.

And we’ll discuss some solutions, including a potentially radical (ironic) solution on Friday.  You won’t want to miss it.

Or, if you do want to miss it, hopefully we’ll catch you next week!

“Our donors” and channel conflict

An quick update on the science of slacktivism

Back in January, I posted about three studies on slacktivism.  And back in March, we looked at whether people who think of themselves as good do good things.  Generally, these studies found:

  • People tend to keep their commitments and do the good things they say they are going to.
  • They do this unless they did a public pledge first.  The public pledge seemed to allow them to manage their reputation as they wished, with not as much need to follow through.
  • Social media fundraising campaigns don’t really do much unless involving buckets, ice, and/or challenges.

There’s a new study out in the March edition of Sociological Science (yes, I know, March isn’t entirely new; my copy must have been held up in the mail by the fact that I am not a subscriber) that bolsters these claims.

They went through a sample of 3500 pledges for donations made through an online social media/donation facilitation platform.  Of those pledges, 64 percent were fulfilled, 13 percent were partially fulfilled, and 16 percent were deleted. However, people who broadcast their pledges on social were more likely to delete and not fulfill their pledge donations.  This fits the thesis of people who pledge do so largely to look good and are less likely to follow through.

They also found from using Facebook ads and other social media techniques, and I’m going to just let them tell this part from their abstract:

The experiment also shows that, although the campaigns reached approximately 6.4 million users and generated considerable attention in the form of clicks and “likes,” only 30 donations were made.

Please print out this quote and point to it every time someone says mail is dead because of low response rates.

So, to replay the recommendations from advocacy campaigns:

  • Do them.  A properly run advocacy campaign can increase the likelihood that someone will donate and take other actions for your organization.
  • Make them private.  Public petitions appear to satisfy a person’s desire to manage their reputation, so they were less willing to take other actions.
  • By extension, don’t do them on social networks.  Not only are they not public, but you do not have the easy wherewithal to communicate with them to get the first gift or convert to other activities.
  • Make the ask.  It can be as easy as having an ask for the donation on the confirmation page or receipt for a petition.  Folks who take private actions want to help and are in a mindset of helping.  I personally have seen advocacy campaigns with a soft ask after taking the petition raise more money than a hard ask to a full list.  Crazy, but true.

Thanks.  This is my first shorter weekend content.  Let me know if you liked or didn’t like at nick@directtodonor.com.  I saw the story and wanted to get the word out, but want to know from you, the reader, if this is valuable.

An quick update on the science of slacktivism

Learning from political fundraising: chip in change for change

You’ve seen the headlines: “Americans more divided than ever”, “Gridlock reaching threat level crimson, which is worse than red somehow”, and “Pelosi-McConnell dancing knife fight leaves two dead.”*

Seemingly, parties can’t agree on anything.

But here’s a ray of hope.  They can agree on donors chipping in:

Martin O’Malley:

chipinomalley

Rand Paul:

chipinrandpaul

Bobby Jindal:

chipinjindal

DCCC:

chipindccc

RNC:

chipinnrcc

Jeb Bush:

chipinbush

Bernie Sanders and MoveOn:

chipinsanders

John Kasich:

chipinkasich

Marco Rubio:

chipinrubio

Hillary Clinton:

chipinclinton

I’ll be honest: usually my research for this blog is harder than this.  The hardest parts of finding these were:

  1. Remembering who had been running for president.  For example, it turns out Lincoln Chafee is not a model of car.
  2. Finding photographic from former campaign sites.  There’s evidence that Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, and others used chip-in language, but couldn’t find them online.  So passes away the glory of a presidential campaign.

But nonprofits don’t seem to be using “chip in” much.  Yet.  I think BirdConservancy.org was the largest organization I could find in my Googling.

So why do political organizations almost unanimously use “chip in”?  Here are my theories:

  • “Chip in” sounds very small. Giving permission for small donations increases the likelihood of giving. This is probably part of the appeal.  This extends to the standard ask strings.  Clinton, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, Sanders, and the current Republican frontrunner (since I pledged I wouldn’t use his name as a cheap SEO play) all start their asks at $3-25.  In fact, if you take out Kasich, the highest initial ask is $15 (ironically, for Bernie Sanders).
  • Making a cost sound small also decreases the amount of pain that someone feels from making a purchase/donation. 
  • The value of a name in political spheres far exceeds just their donation value.  A $3 donor is also a voter at worst and perhaps a volunteer or district captain.  And of course, they may be able to give more in the future.  A $2,700 donor is these things, plus someone who may be able to attract like-minded funders at a max level.

    I say this is in political spheres.  But isn’t this true for your nonprofit as well?  You want that $3 donor as a volunteer, walker, bequest donor, monthly donor, etc.  And yet we generally have higher online ask thresholds. 
  • “Chip in” implies that others are doing the same.  In fact, Oxford Dictionaries defines “chip in” as “contribute something as one’s share of a joint activity, cost, etc.”  Social proof is a powerful persuasive force and knowing that others are doing it and are counting on you too can greatly influence decisions. 
  • People like to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  This is especially true for causes, political or non-profit.  The ability to make something part of your identity that ties you into a larger in-group can be very powerful.

So I’d encourage you to try chipping in as part of your emailing strategy (and, if it works, test elsewhere) as a way of pulling these cognitive levers.

A post-script: after I drafted this piece, this came in from the Clinton campaign:

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* I will offer a free signed book (in that I will print out any one of my ebooks , sign it, and mail it to you) for the first person who can do a Photoshop of this based on West Side Story.

 

Learning from political fundraising: chip in change for change

Learning from political fundraising: the eyes have it

This week, we’ll look at some of the lessons we in the nonprofit world can learn from those in the political world.

Wait!  Don’t leave!

I know I said that I would be counterprogramming to the blogs that turn out 7 Vital Marketing Lessons from This Year’s Oscar Winners topical content.  But:

  1. There are actually lessons that we can take from the political realm.  If you haven’t read The Victory Lab or Rick Perry and His Eggheads, I strongly recommend them as valuable insights into another industry that relies on donations for its livelihood.
  2. Political fundraising has to be crazy fast and efficient.  Imagine if in November, your nonprofit was going to either win or lose: accomplish all of your goals or cease to exist.  When the stakes are that high, there are distilled lessons that we can benefit from.
  3. It’s only going to get worse and I can’t stomach putting this topic off until December.

So how about this: I will not mention the current (as of this writing) Republican frontrunner despite the potential clickbait. Instead, I’ll try for a nonpartisan look at some items that may be helpful for we nonprofits.

The first one is relatively brief.  In looking at campaign Web sites, take a look at what the candidates’ eyes are doing.  Here’s Hillary Clinton’s Web site — an older version:

hillary-clinton-2016-campaign-website-600

 

And here’s Bernie Sanders.

berniesmall

What do you notice in common?

The eyes of the candidate are looking at what they want you look at.  This isn’t true in all or even most candidates’ cases: many of them are looking right at the camera or staring off into the future.

But those are missed opportunities.  Studies show that humans automatically look a few discrete places: where arrows or people point* and where other people’s eyes are looking (one such study is here )

Kissmetrics shows a great heat map of where people look when a photo is looking at the camera. 

7-baby-face

Because the baby is looking at the user, users get locked up in the baby’s eyes with no indication of where they should next look.

Now, take a look where people look when the baby is looking at the text:

8-baby-face-eye-tracking

Here’s another good example from QuickSprout.  Looking at the camera:

sunsilk-uncued

And looking toward the product:

sunsilk-cued
So, when Hillary or Bernie are looking at where you put in your email address, guess what the next action is they want you do to.

Now, take a look at your home page.  Where are your pictures looking?  And where do you want people to look?

 

* Where arrows point: what, you thought this from Clinton’s site is a coincidence?

arrows

Learning from political fundraising: the eyes have it

Imagery in nonprofit storytelling

Picture the last time you watched a football game.  Think about a big hit that someone took to the head, whether it was a smashing tackle or someone getting upended and landing on his head.

What did you, as a spectator do?

Chances are pretty good that you cringed.  More specifically, you likely closed your eyes, turned your head from the screen, lifted your shoulders, and grimaced as if you were in pain.

And you were in pain, even though you were not in pain.  Your brain created the pain for you.  So you averted and closed off your gaze, so you wouldn’t feel any more of it.  You lifted your shoulders so as to protect your own neck.

Or, as a master of the written word put it:

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“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

There is a robust debate ongoing as to whether this happening because of so-called mirror neurons or as a result of human empathy.  A good reflection on this debate is available here.   

However you come out on this debate, suffice it to say that seeing something happen to someone else can trigger the same feeling in ourselves.  But does it translate to the written word?

Absolutely.  Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words may have simultaneously underestimated the worth of both the right picture and the right words.

Consider Hemingway’s famous challenge to write a six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”  I’ve lost a child and those six words remind me vividly and painfully of a nursery.  We painted it to look like the blue of the sky, with a bright yellow sun.  And while I, with my complete lack of art skill, resigned myself to painting clouds and blades of grass (the ugly ones that didn’t taper properly at the top), my wife painted ladybugs and flowers and butterflies to welcome our child.

But the crib remained empty.  And while we did end up having two wonderful children, we moved from that house and used a different crib.

My point here is that words can create images.  Hopefully, you pictured our nursery a little bit above.  I used (or rather, tried to use) some of the same techniques you would see in a movie:

  • Setting the stage: a nursery.
  • Using colors to evoke an image.  Without using the Pantone or paint chip name, you have in your mind the picture of the sky and of the color or the sun.
  • Showing action: it isn’t just a static room; now it’s being painted.
  • Zooming in: on blades of grass.
  • Panning around to capture detail.

Chances are you are picturing it entirely differently from how it was (heck, because of the vagaries of memory, so probably am I).  That doesn’t matter as much as look as you are seeing a scene.

Studies of the brain find that when we read a story written this way, our brain processes it as if it is a visual and motor experience. 

And we can invite people to trigger imagery.  Good verbs like “imagine,” “remember,” and “picture in your mind” give a person the trigger to help them start to think in this way.  You still have to capture them with story and detail, but you are starting well.

Imagery in nonprofit storytelling