Imagine sitting down at your desk one Monday morning and finding an untouched Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle waiting for you. A deadline looms. Although you have no time or intention to muddle through it, you do notice one clue for a 3-letter word: “NFL star Manning.”
But it’s a busy day and you feel no compulsion to attack the puzzle, so you simply smile, set the puzzle aside and move on with your day, without bothering to fill in the easy answer with “Eli.”
Now imagine the same scenario, but this time the entire puzzle has been completed—every answer to every clue —EXCEPT the 3-letter answer for “NFL Star Manning.”
If you feel compelled to pick up a pencil and complete the puzzle in this situation, despite the looming deadline, you have taken a very human action that human behavior scientists refer to as set completion.
“Finishing tasks that are incomplete gives us all a huge sense of satisfaction,” says Dr. Kiki Koutmeridou, Behavioral Science Strategist for DonorVoice. “Framing items as parts of a whole unit elicits a desire for completion and encourages effort and motivation, even in the absence of external rewards.”
The dynamics of successful direct response fundraising has been described as a three-legged stool: Strategy (analytics) drives Creative (tactics) drives Performance (data), from which Strategy generates analytics. That brings us back to the first leg of the stool.
Remove one leg from the relationship and the stool falls over. Simple.
But there is an inherent weakness in the simplicity of this construct. It leaves out the most integral component, namely the donor. More specific, his or her attitudinal and behavioral fabric.
After all, donors react emotionally and rationally — or not — to the strategically considered, tactically rendered communication sitting before them. That’s the reality behind “Performance,” and it directly influences the direction of subsequent strategies and tactics.
Perhaps better to visualize the fundraising dynamics as a wheel, or, because of the cyclical, concentric, and interdependent nature of its components, a mandala (to borrow from Eastern philosophies.)
There’s a tendency for direct response traditionalists to dismiss the value of social media as a viable fundraising channel. It is clear that social media has an important role to play in mobilizing “movements” (Occupy Wall Street, etc.) but its effectiveness as a fundraising tool is less clear. Hence, “slacktivism: the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” (Urban Dictionary)
A study by the journal Sociological Science found that only 0.24% of those who signed onto a recent Facebook cause page for aid to Darfur actually contributed money. Worse, 72% never recruited another member, which at first glance should be a strength of social media.
But what creates this phenomenon? Is it the nature of the channel itself, the behavioral characteristics of its primary audience, or simply the sloppiness with which so many social campaigns have been constructed? Surveying a broad range of social fundraising and activism sites, some observations may be drawn:
Low pain/high gratification. In direct mail and email, we know that a low gift ask (low effort, low pain point) generally attracts more, but less loyal, followers. Throw in a premium (high gratification) and the net effect intensifies.
High pain/low gratification. Conversely, traditionalists know that asking for a higher dollar value and making the donor engage in some kind of involvement action (high effort, high pain point), without public acknowledgement or a premium (low gratification) will certainly result in fewer, but more loyal and retainable donors. In the end, these donors deliver a high revenue pay-off once the cost to acquire them has been recovered.
A social media campaign that requires simply clicking a support button (low effort, low pain point) in return for the shine one’s social reputation attains with public acknowledgement (high gratification) will get lots of hits, but probably not net a large number of loyal supporters who will stick with the cause, or do more than was asked.
What if they were asked to do more for less? Don’t like, give. Give not once, but monthly. Send an email to a friend — not a social share, not a like, but a new effort in a new channel. Send a USPS mailing address of a relative who would also give/volunteer/vote. Number of hits would dramatically drop BUT in all likelihood those that engage will evolve into true long-term constituents.
Deliver the story but demonstrate the solution. We know that emotional stories can create appeals that resonate. However, equally important is the demonstration that the donor’s support can translates to a solution.
Most social media cause sites are strong in emotion, but rarely give time or space to exactly HOW the donor’s action will be used to remedy the problem. Moreover, it is hard to demonstrate why a “like” will solve the problem. Money, on the other hand, or volunteer action, or referral of others who will donate and volunteer, is easy to demonstrate. Unfortunately, so often it is not.
Especially in a noisy environment, brand does not motivate. Direct response fundraisers continually challenge themselves to establish unique selling propositions, even within individual campaigns, and not rely on organizational brand value.
Social media, including crowdsourcing sites, are crowded and noisy. Yet I see little attempt to differentiate the voices of the appeals themselves. Instead, social media appeals tend to rely on organizational brand and mission to motivate the donor audience to self-select from the many charitable opportunities.
Donor as star. Traditionalists know that the real star of any fundraising appeal is not the organization or its noble mission. In fact, it is not even the hero/victim of the story. The star of an appeal is the donor. It is no easy feat to cast the donor quickly and effectively in the role, regardless of media and channel.
The immediacy and intimacy of social media should make it a natural tool to leverage this fundraising construct. I see little evidence of it occurring on social and crowdfunding pages.
Is social media inherently weak as a fundraising channel? Do the generations that use them behave differently? Before we dismiss social channels, or toss around glib notions like “slacktivism,” we should be sure we are at least employing the practices that we use in other media.
Technology changes. User practice may even change as a result. Human behavior does not.
A old friend of mine who works at a Catholic charity shared a letter he received from a donor several weeks ago. It read, in part:
“Last year I sent out letters to about 12 charities that I gave $50.00 or more to, and requested they acknowledge my letter regarding not sending any mail during the year with cards, crosses, statues, holy pictures and other little gifts I could not use.
“All of you replied you would do that for me. I only wanted one receipt for the donation I gave once a year, [and] nothing more, as I was getting tons of stuff that I could not keep and also cost you guys money anyway.
“Well ‘YOU ARE THE WINNER’, they kept sending me things all year. Since you did not, [you] get a donation of $600.00.”
Lessons learned? Respect your donors’ wishes, listen to what they are saying, and act accordingly to satisfy them.
For decades, the fundraising community has accepted the notion that the act of giving is an emotional behavior. Without doubt, there is solid scientific ground on which to build this foundational belief.
Fundraising campaigns are built around this assumption: “We have a serious problem we are trying to solve, and we believe we can move you to help us to solve it.”
And often the persuasion behind that emotional urge to give — the argument for giving to a specific organization, for instance — contains a very rational assumption: “Your gift to us represents your best investment for finding a solution.”
This duality inspires endless argument. What approach should we take when we speak to our donors in this campaign? Emotional or Rational? How much of each?
Accepting this notion at face value, however, is risky.
The Fundamental Error
Strategic fundraising campaigns run on the rails of an offer, driven by a singular case for giving. Often, fundraisers use the emotional/rational yardstick to create the messaging and positioning around the offer. But differentiating fundraising offers as emotional versus rational suggests that they exist in opposition to each other.
This, of course, is fundamentally illogical.
The opposite of emotional is unemotional. The opposite of rational is irrational.