And how – maybe – management advice can help you raise more money
I read an article a while back about instilling trust in employees. It was written by Paul J. Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and a professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University.
He wondered why people trust one another. While we’re naturally inclined toward trust, we don’t always feel it. Why?
He set up an experiment where participants would choose an amount of money to send online to a stranger. The amount would be tripled, and the stranger could choose to share some of the increase with the participant. Or not.
Meanwhile, he was measuring participants oxytocin levels before and after sending the money.
Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies individual and social trust. It is also an antidote to depressive feelings.
Since we generate it ourselves, they administered synthetic oxytocin and measured levels before and after the experiment. They found that oxytocin reduced the fear of trusting a stranger. It increased empathy.
The rest of the article focused on using this information to manage better. But being me, I wondered whether we could learn something about giving. I’m going to use his management recommendations and run with them. From here on, this is not science – just me taking a flyer. Come along if you like!
So, the key here was immediate, tangible, unexpected, personal and public recognition. We know how important it is to properly thank donors. But to me, this underlines how critical timing is. And how important it is to make the recognition personal.
Unexpected takes it to another level. That small gift (a bookmark, maybe?) That thank you note – just because. That phone call from a board member, when “all” you’ve given is $25. All of those will make a donor feel happier and more trusting, I think.
Induce challenge stress
When working with a team, giving them a difficult, but achievable task can trigger both oxytocin and adrenocorticotropin (that’s a mouthful!). The result is intensified focus and stronger social connections.
Giving days, peer to peer competition, even matching challenges… couldn’t they all function this way?
One other key to making this work is a concrete endpoint. How do you celebrate if you don’t know where the finish line is?
Give people discretion in how they do their work and enable job crafting
Autonomy leads to both trust and innovation in employees. We can offer donors more choice – specific areas to fund, perhaps. And when working with donors of time (that is, volunteers) we can train them well, and then give them the room to make the work their own.
Share information broadly
It’s hard to feel trusting when you feel like information is being kept from you. And while we talk about transparency, we also feel pulled toward putting the best light on everything.
The thing about asking people to give, though, is that there’s no reason is all is peaches. There needs to be a problem for them to solve!
And we’ve seen, in glorious color, what happens to organizations who do cover over problems or hide important information. Do you remember the Pro Publica article about the Red Cross and Haiti? Or the big hubbub about Wounded Warrior and how they were spending money? Ouch. Talk about trust… or the lack of it.
Treat donors like partners more than customers. They’re on the inside – or should feel that way.
Intentionally build relationships
People are more trusting when they can intentionally build social ties. You like working with people you know beyond their office persona, right?
While we cannot make every donor our new best friend, we can certainly be intentional about building relationships. I think a big part of that is treating that relationship as two-way. Ask for feedback. Listen and act on complaints or suggestions. Let donors know you welcome their input.
And… let donors build relationships with others who also support your cause. I loved holding a casual donor event for loyal donors. These were people who either had been giving for 10 years or were monthly donors. So not all the people who were used to being invited to free events. We served wine and cheese, and we had a speaker. And we watched as our donors met and got to know each other. Those bonds were good for them. But they were also good for us.
Facilitate whole-person growth
When we think of donors as money, not people, we go off the rails. When we value our donors as people – people with lives and dimensions – we open the door to better relationships with them.
If yours is a mission that lends itself to education opportunities, do you specifically invite donors? How about opportunities to experience your mission? A tour, a show, a reading?
And this may sound scary, but have you ever considered introducing some donors to organizations whose work is connected to yours?
This is so simple, isn’t it? I’ve found people are so much more willing to lower their barriers when you go first. And let’s be honest: if you need donors, you are vulnerable, no matter how strong and mighty your organization may feel.
Asking for help stimulates production of oxytocin in others. Ask with genuine humility. I’m betting your response is better.
Trust is crucial for good fundraising.
Oxytocin facilitates that trust. So, I’m sure there are important connections to our work. But let me underline again that I’m not a scientist. I am a thinker-about-donors person. And I’d love to hear your take on this!