Archive for ‘General Nonprofit’

November 26, 2019

Is One Charity about to Make You Look Bad?

The Charities Aid Foundation of America might have made your nonprofit organization look bad last year. Warning: They’re about to do it again!

Let me explain.

If you’ve sent your year-end appeal, written a solid thank-you letter series, and prepared a donor-engagement plan, you might believe you’ll be all set to take a holiday break between Christmas and the New Year. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Many charities operate with a skeleton staff between the holidays while others shutdown completely.

However, while many nonprofit organizations wind down in the closing weeks of the year, many donors are gearing up their philanthropic activity. Many donors make their philanthropic decisions at the end of the year, often in the closing days of the year. While the current federal tax law means fewer people itemize their deductions when filing their taxes, many of those people still make late year-end charitable gifts. Furthermore, many wealthy people who do itemize will wait until the closing days of the year before making their philanthropic gifts.

Some of your year-end donors will have questions. They may wonder about the best way to give (i.e., cash, appreciated stock, Donor Advised Fund recommendation, etc.). Others may have questions about your organization’s programs and areas of greatest need. Still others may simply need to know the formal name of your organization to put on their check.

If individuals with questions are unable to reach you for answers, they may not give or they may give elsewhere. This is something CAF America understands.

Last year, Ted Hart, ACFRE, CAP, President & CEO of CAF America, sent an email wishing donors a happy holiday and announcing his organization’s extended holiday hours. Not only would someone be available throughout the holiday season, staff would be available until 8:00 PM EST, well beyond standard business hours. Hart provided an email address and phone number. The email encouraged recipients to reach out if they needed any help or had any questions. You can find a copy of Hart’s email message and my detailed analysis of it by clicking here.

Underscoring his organization’s donor-centered orientation, Hart concluded his message by writing:

It is our pleasure to be of service to your domestic and international philanthropy on a timetable that suits you best.”

Hart’s email let supporters know that the organization is there to meet their needs on their terms. Even if they didn’t need to contact the organization as December 31 approached, they still appreciated knowing that the organization cared enough about them to remain accessible.

Based on the response to last year’s extended hours, CAF America will be doing the same this year beginning December 9. Hart explains, “We had many donors who made use of the extended hours. Many are very busy during the holidays and regular business hours do not always support busy holiday schedules.”

By comparison with CAF America, does your organization look good or bad as the year comes to a close?

I’m not suggesting that you need to stay at your desk through the end of the year. However, I am suggesting you remain accessible. Fortunately, technology allows you to be reachable without having to remain in the office. For example, you can set email alerts on your cell phone. Also, you can forward your office calls to your cell phone. So, whether or not you remain in the office, you can still be available to individuals contemplating a donation to your organization.

If, like CAF America, you let people know that you will remain available, you’ll be showing them that you care about them. Your organization’s supporters will appreciate the extra effort you make to be of service even if they don’t have any year-end needs.

At this time of year, the public expects to be inundated with charity appeals seeking support. What people do not expect is a message offering good wishes and service. So, pleasantly surprise folks this holiday season. Show individuals you care about each of them by letting them know you’re there for them. Offer them assistance. Give them an opportunity to engage. Provide useful information.

To determine if your organization is donor centered as the year draws to a close, ask yourself these questions:

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October 29, 2019

Raise More Money When You Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Fundraising

Fundraising success depends on having a good cause. It also requires that fundraisers do things the right way. But, none of that is enough. To successfully raise money, fundraisers must also avoid making costly mistakes, either unknowingly or (and you would never do this, right?) knowingly.

Making mistakes can cause your organization to lose donors and have a difficult time finding new ones. In some cases, one charity’s mistakes can harm the reputation of the entire nonprofit sector causing even innocent organizations to lose support.

Philanthropy researchers have shown us that the more someone trusts a nonprofit organization, the more likely they are to give. Furthermore, the more they trust a charity, the more money they are likely to donate. A report issued by Independent Sector stated:

The public is demanding a greater demonstration of ethical behavior by all of our institutions and leaders ….To the extent the public has doubts about us, we shall be less able to fulfill our public service.”

In short, trust affects both propensity for giving and the amount given. Those who have a high confidence in charities as well as believe in their honesty and ethics give an average annual contribution of about 50 percent more than the amount given by those sharing neither opinion.

You can read more about the research into trust and philanthropy in an article I wrote a number of years ago for the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing.

For the Association of Fundraising Professionals Ethics Awareness Month,  I wrote a feature article for the October issue of Advancing Philanthropy magazine: “Ethics, Fundraising, and Leadership: Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Fundraising.” As I pointed out:

You’re a good person. At the very least, you try to be a good person.

However, that’s not good enough. Effective fundraising demands more of us. Every action we take, no matter how small or large, has the potential to build or erode public trust, which could have a corresponding impact on philanthropic support.

Among other things, being a fundraising professional means you must always strive for excellence while avoiding missteps that could have costly consequences for you and/or your organization. Fortunately, you do not have to endure risky mistakes to learn from them. Instead, thanks to media headlines, you can learn from the mistakes of others.”

In the AFP article, I discuss seven missteps made by real charities. While there are certainly more than seven deadly fundraising sins, my article highlights common issues of concern. For example, conflicts of interest was rated among the top ethical concerns of fundraisers, according to a recent AFP survey. In my article, I explore this issue citing a real-world example:

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October 18, 2019

11 Things You Need to Know When Looking for a New Job

The high-rate of nonprofit staff turnover has been a topic of discussion for decades. Most recently, a Harris Poll study conducted for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals has fueled the conversation. Harris found that more than half of the fundraising professionals in Canada and the USA that were surveyed say they plan to leave their job within the next two years.

Over the years, much has been written about what it will take to reduce the turnover rate. I even wrote about this in August. Now, I want to look at the issue another way. While it’s important to retain talented staff, we need to acknowledge that staff turnover is a fact of life. Even if the sector manages to do a more effective job retaining employees, the reality is that, eventually, staff will leave their position. You will leave your position.

That got me thinking about what you need to know when the time comes to hunt for a new job. I also thought about what professional recruiters need to know, from a candidate’s perspective, when representing a nonprofit client.

Because I’ve been self-employed since 1982, I didn’t feel quite qualified to write on the subject from a job candidate’s perspective. So, I invited Dan Hanley to share several tips based on his own job searches over the years as well as his encounters with executive recruiters. Dan is CEO and Lead Consultant with Altrui Consulting.

I thank Dan for kindly sharing six tips to keep in mind when looking for a new position as well as five things you should definitely avoid doing. In addition, he shares five suggestions for nonprofits who work with a professional recruiter.

Checkout Dan’s tips and, then, please share your own:

 

If the statistics I read are correct, more than half of nonprofit fundraisers are either looking for a new job or will be soon. Although I am troubled by this, as you might be, I am writing this post based on my experiences with looking for a job and the dozens of peers who are currently looking for their next nonprofit fundraising position.

Back in 2013, I was laid off. I had seen it coming and had a week to prepare before I was called into my boss’s office. My hunch was correct, and one morning I was told even though I was such an awesome guy, I was being laid off. I was handed a check and given the day to pack up and go.

I was grateful that I had already begun to prepare for this. I walked back to my office, called my husband, pulled up the state unemployment website and applied for unemployment. I then logged onto Facebook and told all of my friends and family that I had been laid off and had time for breakfast, lunch, or coffee with them, and that since I was no longer employed they would need to pay.

By the end of the day, I had 68 invitations to breakfast, lunch, or coffee.

Regardless of the reason you are searching for a job, the first thing to know is that you have a lot of support. Most likely, more than you know in the moment. You have your family, friends, former colleagues, peers who you know from work or through social media, etc. Remember this. You are not alone.

I have heard from people smarter than me that the best time to look for a job is when one has a job. Depending on your personal situation, this may or may not be true. The following six suggestions are for anyone looking for their next opportunity, no matter their personal situation:

  • Revisit your resume. Then ask a peer to do the same for you.
  • Sign up for any job email blasts from local nonprofits, national job search sites, and anyone else who sends out such lists.
  • Let everyone know you are looking for a job. Let them know what you envision as your next adventure. For social media platforms, like LinkedIn, you can even make it so recruiters know you are looking and are open to being approached by them.
  • If unemployed, get dressed for work every day and dive into your search. I found it invigorating to be in a dress shirt and slacks at 6:30 am while looking for any new job postings.
  • Share with others, even if it’s just one other, how you are honestly doing and feeling.
  • Be just as active on social media as you were while employed. If you were not active before, become active.

To go with the list of items I suggest you do when in a job search, here are five things I suggest you not do:

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October 4, 2019

The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience

Your nonprofit organization has a serious problem. While you are expending enormous energy to attract, retain, and upgrade donors, things aren’t working out as well as they could. As a sector, charities are doing a horrible job of hanging on to supporters.

Let’s be clear. The low retention rate among donors is not their fault. Instead, the fault rests with charities that do not ensure a donor experience that inspires long-term commitment.

Fortunately, there’s something you can do about this. You can enhance the experience of your donors and thereby increase your chance of retaining them and upgrading their support. A new book by Lynne Wester, The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience, will show you the way.  Lynne is the principal and founder of Donor Relations Guru  and the DRG Group. In addition to her books and workshops, she created the Donor Relations Guru website to be used as a unique industry tool filled with resources, samples and thought leadership on donor relations and fundraising.

I first encountered Lynne several years ago at an Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference. She was leading a mini-seminar in the exhibit hall hosted by AFP. As I was walking past, her talk stopped me in my tracks. She was entertaining while talking about a subject that seldom is properly addressed at fundraising conferences. And her thoughts about donor relations resonated with me. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Lynne’s latest book, which is graphically beautiful and accessible, breaks down the philosophy of donor engagement while providing concrete strategies, tangible examples, and a whole slew of images and samples from organizations across the nation who are doing great work. The book is interspersed with offset pages that really drive home the theories outlined and provide specific examples that nonprofit professionals constantly crave and request. You’ll find key metrics, team activities, survey questions, and so much more. If you want to improve your organization’s donor retention rate, get Lynne’s book and improve the donor experience.

I thank Lynne for her willingness to share some book highlights with us:

 

When I sat down to write The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience, I wanted it to be a continuation of our thought work in The 4 Pillars of Donor Relations. But honestly, I wanted it to be a book that was read beyond donor-relations circles and practitioners and instead shared across departments and read widely by the nonprofit community.

Why? Because we have a huge problem facing our sustainability in nonprofits and that is donor retention. With first-time donor retention rates hovering below 30 percent, and overall donor retention less than 50 percent, we are in danger of losing our donor bases. We see this in the fact that 95 percent of our gifts come from five percent of our donors and, in higher education, the alumni giving rate is falling each and every year. My belief is that most of these declines can be attributed to our behavior and our insistence on ignoring the donor experience.

The donor experience is everyone’s responsibility and it requires much more than a thank you letter and an endowment report. It is a mindset. The four pillars—knowledge, strategy, culture, and emotion—can be applied in a wide variety of areas.

Knowledge is essential because it lays the foundation for all of our actions with donors. Far too often, we make dangerous assumptions that affect the donor experience. Getting to know your donors is essential. Look beyond the basic points of information and dig into a donor’s behavior and also communication preferences. Gathering passive intelligence is inextricable from the practice of crafting the donor experience. Seeking active intelligence is essential. What information are you gathering through surveys, questions, and intelligence gathering? Intentional feedback can help you prove your case for additional human and financial resources, new programs or initiatives, and gives you new content and activity to test.

In addition, consider how you can use this information to enhance the donor experience for all donors, regardless of level. Curiosity and tenacity are encouraged in this space. Being intentional is a mindset, a new way of operating and data drives all that we do. It’s your responsibility to gather as much data as possible to help build the strategic case for your donors and their experience.

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September 10, 2019

Congratulations! You Achieved Something Kind of Cool.

You probably don’t know that you’ve achieved something kind of cool. So, let me congratulate you and explain.

Because you read my blog posts and, perhaps, follow me on social media, you’ve managed to have me included on the list of “Top 100 Charity Industry Influencers” that has been compiled by Onalytica using its proprietary technology platform. I’m honored to be ranked number 16!

While I’m certainly pleased to appear on the influencer list, I’m also humbled. The reality is that I would not be on the list without the support, readership, and engagement of thousands of people around the world. If it weren’t for you, I’d just be some solitary guy talking to himself.

You inspire me to strive to be even more relevant. I want to help nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals explore important issues, achieve greater results, and build a better world. To keep me on track, be sure to let me know how I can assist you. Ask questions. Share your challenges and successes. Suggest blog topics. Tell me the issues that are of most concern to you.

But, I’m not the only one here for you. There are 99 other folks on the influencer list. They’re fundraisers, consultants, journalists, donors, and more. I encourage you to checkout the Onalytica list, and consider following some or all of the people you’re not currently following.

Here are five additional things you might consider doing:

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August 28, 2019

Would You Have Accepted Money from Jeffrey Epstein?

A reporter for The Miami Herald interviewed me recently about whether charities should have rejected charitable contributions from Jeffrey Epstein, an admitted child sex trafficker who faced new accusations prior to his suicide earlier this month.

Now, I’ll ask you, would you have accepted a donation from Epstein?

Your knee-jerk response might be, “No!” Or, you might have a more emphatic and colorful response. It’s even possible that you would have accepted a charitable contribution from Epstein. You certainly wouldn’t be alone. Many nonprofit organizations have accepted substantial gifts from Epstein including Harvard University, the Ohio State University, the Palm Beach Police Scholarship Fund, Verse Video Inc. (a nonprofit that funds the PBS series Poetry in America), Ballet Florida, and other nonprofit organizations. Some nonprofits accepted Epstein’s money before his legal troubles, some after his initial plea deal on prostitution charges, and some around the time of the swirling accusations of child sex trafficking this year.

So, once again, would you have accepted a donation from Epstein?

As I told the reporter from the Herald, it’s not a simple question. It’s complex. It’s nuanced.

One factor is timing. Some might consider donations made before Epstein’s legal troubles to be completely problem-free. On the other hand, some charities might have more of an issue with an Epstein contribution made after his 2008 plea deal. However, after Epstein served his sentence, some charities would have been willing to accept an Epstein contribution once again.

Another timing issue involves whether a nonprofit had already spent Epstein’s donation prior to his legal difficulties. For example, Harvard says it spent Epstein’s donation by that time. In other words, there was nothing left to return.

Another factor to consider is the type of recipient charity. For example, a university might have been more willing to accept an Epstein donation than a child welfare charity would be.

Consideration of Epstein’s philanthropy gets even more complicated when we consider broader cultural issues. For example, in our society, we believe that ex-felons have paid their debt to society and, therefore, should be free to live life as full citizens including having the right to be philanthropic. Furthermore, we believe in a presumption of innocence. Epstein was not convicted of any new charges prior to his death.

More broadly, we must consider whether charities are supposed to investigate and pass judgment on donors before deciding whether to accept a gift. Many major donors, I dare say, have done something that they probably would prefer you didn’t know about, even if not rising to a criminal level. When does due diligence turn into snooping? Do you want your organization to have a reputation of hyper-scrutinizing prospective donors? Would major donors want to submit to that kind of treatment or would they simply take their money elsewhere?

When doing your due diligence, keep in mind that some of this nation’s greatest philanthropists were also troubling figures such as Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and others. Charities are not in business to turn away contributions. They exist to take donations and use the funds to enhance communities and the world.

For example, I know of an order of nuns who accepts donations from known Mafia figures. They believe that they can take the funds and do more good with it than would be done if the money were left in the hands of the mobsters.

Having said that, the issues surrounding Epstein are certainly complex. I’ve only touched on some of the issues. The Miami Herald did a great job exploring some of the complications. You can read the article by clicking here.

To navigate a complex ethical dilemma, charities should consider all possible courses of action from multiple perspectives. In my article in the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, I wrote:

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August 19, 2019

High Fundraiser Turnover Rate Remains a Problem

Here we go again. There is yet another report about the high turnover rate among fundraising professionals.

According to a Harris Poll study conducted for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, more than half of the fundraising professionals in Canada and the USA that were surveyed say they plan to leave their job within the next two years. Among respondents, 30 percent say they plan to leave the fundraising profession altogether by 2021.

The ongoing high turnover rate among fundraising professionals is costly to nonprofit organizations. There is the cost of hiring and training new staff. There is also the enormous cost associated with the loss of continuity and the abandonment of relationships with prospects and donors.

Social media and the blogosphere have been reacting to the new report. For example, Roger Craver, at The Agitator, offers a well-done summary of the data and shares some additional resources exploring the problem. Unfortunately, much of the discussion I’ve seen overlooks what I view to be the real problem that allows high fundraising staff turnover to continue. Let me explain.

Soon after becoming a fundraiser, I began hearing talk about the problem of high staff turnover. That was back in 1980. Many causes were identified. Many solutions were offered. Sadly, nothing substantive has changed over the intervening four decades. Nothing! NOTHING! N-O-T-H-I-N-G!

I’m fine with surveys that continue to point to the turnover issue. I’m fine with many proposed solutions to the situation. However, do not expect me to believe anything will actually change.

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August 1, 2019

How Fundraisers Can Avoid 5 Big Mistakes Made by Capital One

Don’t worry. This post really is not about data security. It’s about much more. And I’ve written it for you, a fundraising professional.

But first, here’s some background:

Capital One, the tenth largest banking institution in the USA, announced it has experienced a major data breach involving the personal information of credit applicants and customers. In its official statement, the bank disclosed, “Based on our analysis to date, this event affected approximately 100 million individuals in the United States and approximately 6 million in Canada….This information included personal information Capital One routinely collects at the time it receives credit card applications, including names, addresses, zip codes/postal codes, phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and self-reported income.” In addition, about 140,000 Social Security numbers were compromised. One million of Capital One’s Canadian customers had their Social Insurance Numbers compromised.

The Capital One story presents the nonprofit sector with an opportunity to learn from someone else’s problem. Every charity should learn from the five mistakes made by the bank:

1. Inadequate Data Protection

While Capital One works with Amazon Web Services, AWS says it was not compromised. The hacker exploited Capital One’s own system. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has a former AWS employee, Paige A. Thompson, in custody. The investigation is likely continuing. What we know for certain at this point is that Capital One’s data protection systems were not up to the task.

As a fundraising professional, I don’t have any idea about what sophisticated data protection tools exist. I suspect you don’t either. However, you have an obligation to make sure that your organization seeks out the expertise to safeguard the organization’s data. Furthermore, you need to make sure your organization has a policy about who has access to data and under what circumstances. I know you won’t have the security systems of a bank, but you do have an obligation to have reasonably robust security protocols in place.

2. Lack of Timely Reporting

The personal data of Capital One credit applicants and customers was compromised from March 22-23, 2019. The company didn’t learn of the breach until July 19. The bank did not reveal this information to the public until July 29. We do not know if the FBI requested that the bank withhold news of the event pending an arrest. If so, the reporting delay is understandable. Nevertheless, the delay from the date of the incident to the date of disclosure was significant, even if it wasn’t the result of an actual mistake.

Fine wine improves with age. Problems do not. Whenever bad news is likely to become public or should be made public, it’s important to do so as soon as possible. This is true for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Getting the information out quickly and fully will help the organization preserve or, perhaps, even enhance its credibility.

3. Not Getting Out in Front of the Story

Once Capital One released the news, it did so haphazardly, despite having had 10 days to plan the disclosure roll-out. It issued a press release at 7:11 PM ET on July 29. By 7:41 PM ET, The Wall Street Journal website carried the news story. Other media outlets ran the story around the same the time. However, Capital One did not tweet the news until 8:43 PM ET. Therefore, when I first checked the Capital One Twitter feed, there was no mention of the story.

Even once the company addressed the general public, rather than just the news media, it did so with a bland tweet that simply read, “If you want to learn more about the Capital One cyber incident, please visit” along with a link to its press release and Frequently Asked Questions page.

The company did not issue an eye-catching alert. The company did not disclose the nature of the “incident.” The innocuous language and low-key look was also used at the top of the Capital One homepage. Assuming they actually spotted the mention, readers had to click through to the press release to find out what happened and, then, to the Frequently Asked Question page for additional information.

If something goes wrong at your organization, make sure you deliver your message on all the communication platforms your organization uses. Make it easy for folks to spot the information. Furthermore, make it easy for them to get more information by giving them a number to call or an email address, perhaps setting up both as hotlines for the occasion.

Capital One could have provided the public with the news without forcing folks to click through to the press release and then click over to the FAQ page. The bank could have also tweeted out tips for how its customers can protect themselves. Instead, the company is making people work a bit for the information. Don’t make the same mistake. Get people the information they need when they need it, and make it easy for them.

When something goes wrong involving your organization, whether or not it is to blame, you need to get out in front of the story in as coordinated a way as possible. At the point you alert the media, be prepared to take your message directly to the general public at the same time.

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July 12, 2019

Do Not Fall for Newsweek’s Fake News!

You might have seen it recently. Sophie Penney, PhD, President of i5 Fundraising, saw it and then asked me what I thought. So, thank you for the question, Sophie; here goes…

Newsweek posted an article with this headline: “Trump Tax Plan Leads to $54 Billion Decline in Charitable Giving.”

There’s only one problem: IT IS NOT TRUE!

Shockingly, not even the body of the article supports the headline. Instead, the writer talks briefly about a $54 billion drop in itemized donations NOT a $54 billion drop in giving. This does NOT mean there was a $54 billion drop in actual giving. With fewer people itemizing their taxes, of course there would be fewer itemized donations. However, that does not mean fewer donations. Many donors will continue to give and continue to give generously despite not being able to itemize. By the way, the writer provided no source for the $54 billion figure.

The article furthers its doom-and-gloom theme by asserting that there was a 1.7 percent decline in overall charitable giving. However, the writer did not mention that that figure was for inflation-adjusted dollars. In real dollars, giving actually went up $2.97 billion (0.7 percent) between 2017 and 2018, and now stands at $427.71 billion, the highest level of all time, according to Giving USA 2019. Even if we look at inflation-adjusted dollars, giving in 2018 was the second highest in recorded history. Not bad.

If we want to understand the current philanthropy environment, we need to have an honest conversation using real information. In a previous post, I identified several factors affecting charitable giving:

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June 26, 2019

It’s Not Just WHAT Donors Think, It’s HOW They Think that Matters

When certain fundraising experts have something to say, we all would be wise to pay close attention. Bernard Ross, Director of =mc consulting (The Management Centre based in the UK), is one of those insightful voices.

I’ve been among the legion of fans Bernard has attracted through his consulting work, conference lectures, articles, and books. Bernard’s latest volume, Change for Good written with Omar Mahmoud, demonstrates that fundraising is more than an art; it is also a science.

The publisher’s book description reads:

This breakthrough book is about how we as human beings make decisions — and how anyone involved in the field of social change can help individuals or groups to make positive choices using decision science. It draws on the latest thinking in behavioural economics, neuroscience and evolutional psychology to provide a powerful practical toolkit for fundraisers, campaigners, advocacy specialists, policy makers, health professionals, educationalists and social activists.”

Change for Good introduces readers to 10 key persuasion principles that will help fundraising professionals introduce decision science into their work as they strive to raise more money. For a decade or more, the for-profit sector has used decision science to influence people to make particular choices, whether to purchase something, accept certain behaviors, or take specific action. Now, this book, by Ross and Mahmoud, makes this profound knowledge accessible to fundraisers.

Not only will your nonprofit organization benefit when you read Change for Good, so will Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. That’s because the authors are donating the profits from book sales to the international charity.

Bernard’s generosity does not end there. He has kindly provided us with a special article that demonstrates the importance of understanding both WHAT and HOW people think. In his guest post below, Bernard demonstrates the impact that decision science can have with real-life examples. In addition, you’ll be able to download a free summary sheet that provides valuable highlights from Change for Good.

I thank Bernard for his willingness to provide the following material:

 

Fundraisers are often concerned about changing hearts and minds. And they’re often, especially when prompted by colleagues in advocacy or communications, interested in increasing supporters’ conscious engagement with the cause. But, is this the best or only way to improve pro-social behavior — whether it’s increasing donations, using less plastic, or avoiding bias?

Let’s begin with the science. Fundamental to decision-making is the premise that much of our data processing and decision-making is subconscious and fast. Deciding is so fast, even changing our minds can be difficult. According to some recent research at Johns Hopkins University if we change our minds within roughly 100 milliseconds of making a decision, we can successfully revise our plans. If we wait more than 200 milliseconds, however, we may be unable to make the desired change. That’s not very long to persuade a donor to not look away from our TV ad or crumple our direct-mail pack.

But, it’s not just our visual process that’s important. For example, other senses are also important, especially smell. In a test between two Nike stores, one with a very faint “consciously undetectable” scent and one without, customers were 80 percent more likely to purchase in the scented store.

In another experiment at a petrol (gas) station with a mini-mart attached to it, pumping the smell of coffee into the store saw purchases of the drink grow 300 percent.

If you take the time to wander into the M&M World candy store in Leicester Square London, you might now notice the smell of chocolate. When it first opened in 2011, it did not have the smell and sales were disappointing. They hired a company called ScentAir who specialize in adding signature scents to stores. The managing director of the company, Christopher Pratt, said in an article describing the effect, “It looked like the place should smell of chocolate, it didn’t. It does now.” And sales have moved in response.

There was a similar positive response when the National Trust, a UK heritage charity, included a “scratch and sniff” element in an appeal to save a flower meadow.

When you visit a charity website, the conscious brain analyses the message content. (What is the cause I am being asked to support? What do they want me to do — donate, sign a petition, or join up?) At the same time, the subconscious brain continuously responds to how you react to the subtle background and peripheral cues. (How do I feel about the colours, images, celebrities involved, etc.?)

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“I always thought the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. And then one day it occurred to me, ‘Wait a minute, who’s telling me that?'”

Emo Philips

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It’s not all about you either. Your subconscious brain has a mind of its own. Some signals also come from inside us, and we look unconsciously for opportunities to confirm our inner state. When we are in a good mood, we are more likely to tolerate our colleagues and partners and are more likely to donate to charities. These activities become a way to validate or confirm our inner feelings. Let’s look at an example of how this affects our behaviour.

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