Creative Hack #2: Now vs Later


It’s no secret we live in a society prone to instant gratification.

From a weekend binge-watch of Game of Thrones, to polishing off a whole pint of Rocky Road in one sitting, to impulsively tossing in that issue of People Magazine at the grocery store check-out, most folks naturally exhibit a preference toward short-term gain, even if they understand the pleasure experienced by delay might be greater. (Spreading one’s enjoyment of Game of Thrones over an entire season, for instance.)

Related to this phenomenon, losses are also experienced more strongly in the present. As a result, people tend to defer those losses into the future whenever possible, even if doing so might actually cost them more. One look at the credit card debt so many Americans carry confirm this fact. Pay for those noise-canceling headphones with plastic and start enjoying your music today, even though you’ll pay an exorbitant 22% annual interest rate for that pleasure.

How can this basic human behavior drive the act of giving in different ways?

One well-known international child relief organization tested this condition directly to their monthly donors in Sweden. As part of a routine fundraising campaign, the donors were contacted by telephone and asked to increase their donation.

A total of 1134 donors were contacted and were randomly split into two groups. The first group was asked whether they would like to increase their monthly donation today while the second group was asked whether they would agree now to increase their donation in two months. In both groups, credit card or EFT authorization was taken today.

The results were dramatic.

NowLaterGraphAnna Breman, 2009. Give more tomorrow: Two field experiments on altruism and intertemporal choice.

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Creative Hack #1: Set Completion

Blogpic_4-6-16 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.”

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Big Tent or Three-Legged Stool?

14-01-06_graphicSo much trade journalism in direct marketing fundraising today, including the blogosphere, deals with the collection, organization, and analysis of “big” donor data, specifically, behavioral data.

It seems everywhere we look, data frames the conversation, and understandably so. Some have called data the tent-pole of our industry, the single support upon which all successful donor acquisition, retention, and fundraising rely.

Sadly, there is comparatively little coverage on how to use that information, passionate odes to “storytelling” notwithstanding. Translating that data into messages (and yes, stories) that resonate with donors, and compel them to act, is a subject about which is hard to find articulation.

But without that articulation, hoping that data alone solves the problems is a little like selling someone on a new HD TV by describing only how the plasma display technology works, yet never showing him the picture quality it produces. Continue reading

The Story Behind “Story”

Photo credit: The Mark Twain House & Museum

Photo credit: The Mark Twain House & Museum

It seems like everywhere one looks theses days, somebody is talking about the value of “Story” in nonprofit fundraising, and deservedly so. Stories are a fundamental way humans can connect to ideas. We’re hard-wired to respond to a “good story well-told,” as Mark Twain described it.

Direct response fundraisers know that stories can be a compelling and sometimes overlooked mechanism for delivering nonprofit mission to market.

I am a big believer in using stories for fundraising, especially stories with an arc. Stories in which the protagonist experiences a change, bludgeoned by Evil in the opening (cancer, poverty, hunger, injustice, etc.), and ultimately saved by Good (donors who support the Charity of Salvation) at the end. Heck, I even wrote an article about the value of the Arc of the Fundraising Story several Continue reading

The Danger of Automatic Creativity

Creating direct response fundraising is often dangerously simple. Because direct response fundraisers, as a group, so often rely on tried-and-true campaign concepts, creative specialists can be lulled into “automatic creativity.”

We’ve even coined automatic descriptors for these tried-and-true concepts: the Matching Grant, the Year-End E-Appeal, the Follow-Up, the Card Package, etc. Campaigns designed to create predictable, incremental RFM upticks.

It’s easy, in the middle of crunch time, to fall into mechanical creative habits in order to get the project(s) out the door. Furthermore, the mantra of “best practice,” overlaid on building incremental improvements to successful tests, argues against rethinking the tried-and-true.

It should be no surprise, then, that we’ve created controls that exhibit only nominal performance improvements, if at all.

Still, we hang onto these ubiquitous solutions until they cease to solve much of anything anymore. That’s because we have created donors that have wearied of the very techniques we leaned on, in the first place, to acquire and retain them. And these days, in a wildly competitive nonprofit landscape, with a dizzying array of channels in which to receive messages, controls wear out at an alarming rate.

Familiarity breeds contempt, never more so than in direct response fundraising. It’s a multi-culprit failure in marketing groupthink, the responsibility for which shared by all on the development team.

One of the culprits is automatic creativity. Automatic creativity starts with a technique, not the donor. And that’s dangerous.

Here’s why.

When we write and design to meet page length and format requirement, we forget to write and design messaging that resonates with the donor. When the message we send must be wrapped around an organizational brand asset first, we de-emphasize the important role the donor has in the solution. When we focus on the action the donor must take, we necessarily understate the benefit the donor will receive, even when that benefit is simply the feeling of satisfaction that generosity brings to the human spirit.

Beware automatic creativity, even in the face of a tried-and-true technique and a pressing deadline. Successful fundraising always starts with the donor.