The unknown is like conceptual Velcro

vintage-rocket-in-space-913-2042Charities are essentially in the business of making change happen. All charities exist to change something, to make a situation better. No charity does the work it does because the current situation is acceptable.

Yet change is hard. It is hard to challenge the status quo, to introduce new ideas and innovations and to change people’s habits. It is hard because it involves confronting the unknown. And the unknown is easy to fear.

As fundraisers we know rationally that people make decisions based on emotions, but how often do we acknowledge when this happens to us?

Doing something different, whether it is starting something new or stopping doing something, comes with some degree of fear. We worry about the perceived negative impact of change. What if people treat me differently? What if the change isn’t worth the effort? What if I don’t fit in? Or the biggest question that runs through our mind in the middle of the night ‘What if I fail?’ But what if you don’t fail? What if you succeed and make the situation better – for you and for others?

Surely anything that hasn’t happened yet is the unknown. We don’t know if our new idea will work, yet equally we don’t know for certain that the old ideas will continue to work. We feel safer because we have experienced them working in the past, but that security is fake. There is no reason why a well thought out new idea will not work as well or better than a routine old idea. The world is changing rapidly and so to even keep up with just the changes in technology, we have no choice but to change too.

We have to get braver at stepping into the unknown once in a while, both individually and organizationally. It doesn’t matter if it is big or if it is small. Because the more we challenge ourselves to step into the unknown, the more competent we become at confronting the fears that hold us back and the more chance we have of making a difference.

Thank you to Adrian Salmon for the inspiration for this blog.




Do you notice when you are being nudged?

paper-step-up nudgeEvery year a collection of new or recycled buzzwords arrive on the fundraising circuit. Last year they were ‘behavioural economics’, ‘neuroscience’, ‘nudging’ and ‘decision science’. All the conference sessions with these words in the title were full; people crammed in like sardines to hear the about the latest fundraising trends.

This stuff is not new. Part of our core business is to understand the behaviour of our supporters, employees and beneficiaries and nudge them to make decisions that can make a bigger difference to our causes, whether it is about how much and how often they give, how they spend their time or how they engage with the services we provide. Scientists have been studying human beings decision-making for many years and charities have been using these studies to inform our work for many years too (whether we label it with a buzzword or not).

I often observe tactics from outside the sector that encourage (or nudge) people to make decisions and think about ways to apply their tactics to the work of charities.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Recently I was in Argentina taking a journey on the Subte – the metro underground system in Buenos Aries and I noticed a different sales technique.

When you are in a new place you do tend to notice everything, partly because you have to work every little thing out from scratch. Even simple things, like getting the train, are a challenge.

First I had to work out what a ticket looked like and how to ask for one. (Lets just say that my grasp of Spanish is weak.) Then once I had the ticket I had to look for clues as to how to put it in the machine so I could get onto the platform. Then I had to get on the line in the right direction. Then I had to work out the rules of where to sit because the seats were long benches, not like in London when we are separated into allocated slots by armrests just in case we accidentally TOUCH A STRANGER. This poses the additional etiquette of how close you sit to other people. I sat in a corner and hoped no one came too close.

Then a young man came through the train selling Kirby grips, (those little hair-clips that are the same colour as your hair so you can’t see them when you are wearing them). He strolled through the carriage and placed the packets in people’s hands, or on laps of everyone in the carriage; even the men with no hair. I wasn’t quite sure what to do.

Then as calmly as he handed them out, he came back and collected them from people’s hands and laps. Some people bought them and some people simply handed them back. I handed mine back and relaxed and sat back into my seat – but not too far in case I missed my stop.

I’d never seen that way of selling on public transport before. Occasionally people wander through the underground train carriages in London with products to sell, but they would never place them in people’s hands.

What insights would our Subte sales person have to share about nudging people to buy? This is his core business, so I would trust that this tactic helps him sell more products. Does placing the product in someone’s hand increase the probability of someone making a purchase?

If we consider that this tactic in its broadest sense could be about how experiencing the product before you buy increases purchasing probability, then how could this apply to your fundraising context?

Do you let auction bidders experience the auction prizes prior to auction, for example trying on that diamond ring? Do you give a potential committee member the opportunity to experience the event that you would like them to chair to nudge them to sign up? Or do you help people experience the difference they can make, and importantly how that feels, for example by visiting your projects or meeting your beneficiaries before they make a gift?

As fundraisers we already know that we need to make it as easy as possible for people to give. We already use a lot of the techniques that the decision scientists have studied. If you can also notice how others successfully use these nudge tactics and then apply them to your fundraising, these small changes could add up to make a significant difference to your fundraising this year.

And if the next time I see you I hand you a Kirby grip. Be on red alert. I’m probably nudging you.

This blog was first published on 101fundraising crowdblog.

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