Tag Archives | relationships

How to Motivate Donors: The Donor Persuasion Model

As I speak with nonprofit leaders, one key question continues to emerge: Why do our donors give? On the surface, the answer may seem obvious, but the question persists because it’s truly difficult to answer. We all give for different reasons and with different motivations. Yet, the question of “Why?” follows the challenge of “How?”: How do we motivate giving of all types: money, time, talent, and energy? As The NonProfit Times wrote in a recent blogpost: “There is no denying that you can’t force someone to give if they don’t want to.”

To help answer both questions of Why and How, I’ve started constructing a model called the Donor Persuasion Model. It’s based on the work of Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg, and his Fogg Behavior Model. Fogg’s research shows that “three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.”

This model attempts to address motivations for giving, as well as how to encourage our donors to take action on those motivations. At a high level, here are the basic components of the Donor Persuasion Model:


There are three core motivators that we all share as part of the human experience:

1. Sensation: Pleasure/Pain
Will our giving lead us to greater pleasure or diminish pain – either for ourselves or for others?

2. Anticipation: Hope/Fear
Will our giving help us provide hope or reduce pain, suffering, or fear in the world?

3. Social Cohesion: Acceptance/Rejection
Will our giving help us to feel more accepted by others or keep us from being rejected from social groups?


Each ability is focused on the notion of simplicity.
1. Time
2. Money
3. Physical Effort
4. Mental Effort

As nonprofit leaders, we must constantly focus on making actions as easy and simple as possible, particularly when it comes to online fundraising. Fogg advises us to think of the relationship between Ability and Simplicity like this:

Simplicity is a function of your scarcest resource at that moment. Think about time as a resource, If you don’t have 10 minutes to spend, and the target behavior requires 10 minutes, then it’s not simple. Money is another resource. If you don’t have $1, and the behavior requires $1, then it’s not simple.


Think of Triggers as recipes for spurring action depending on levels of Motivation and Ability.

1. Facilitator: High Motivation/Low Ability
A supporter has just read an amazing story or watched an impactful video about our organization’s work. They’re primed to give, but don’t have the time to complete a lengthy donation form or can’t easily get their credit card. This Trigger is about finding ways to make the donation process simple. Think of Amazon’s One-Click Shopping button as an example.

2. Spark: Low Motivation/High Ability
Another scenario is where we’ve made the donation process easy…now we have to know which message will best motivate and mobilize our donors. This is the most challenging trigger because it demands that we have consistent, current, and deep data on our donors. We don’t just have basic contact data, response rates, and giving history; we also have an understanding of what each of our donors believes is important about our organization’s work. This Trigger urges us to provide an emotional Spark to ignite action and complete the ask.

3. Signal: High Motivation/High Ability
All of our nonprofits have true believers who champion our cause. But life can get busy and they just need a little nudge every once in a while to continue their role as champion.

Here’s where I need your help. This Model is currently in version 1.0 and I welcome your input. I’d love to get your feedback on what works for you as a fundraiser and how the model can be improved. You can download a PDF of the model below. I truly look forward to the conversations to come.

Nonprofit Donor Persuasion Model (752 downloads)

The Easy Way To Drive Away Online Supporters: Email Flooding

This is a short post, but one that I believe is important. I receive emails from other nonprofits – many of which I support and want to hear from. I also want to see if I can “borrow” good ideas for my own work.

However, there is one thing that I’m seeing that simply is not a good idea…unless you really do want to drive away precious supporters, volunteers, and donors.

Simply put: Yes, it is possible to send too many emails to your constituents. If you’re sending out more than 2-3 emails per week, ask whether your efforts are yielding the desired results.

If you’re unsure of what results you desire, then you’ve definitely identified a problem: you lack a Call-to-Action.

If you’re unsure if other parts of your organization are sending out emails at the same time as you, you’ve also identified another problem: you lack coordination.

Don’t drive away your most vocal advocates by flooding them with your email messages. Before long, those messages will just be like much of the other flotsam and jetsam that floats in their inbox.


Building Strong Donor Relationships

I recently got a card from my 85 year old grandmother. It was a cute card with a dog hanging in a rather precarious position and looking troubled. The message inside was: “Hang in there.” While things are going well for me, it was just her way of showing concern and also expressing a desire for me to give her a call more often (she’s not subtle when it comes to how much calling her will “make her happy”). How could I not feel compelled to pick up the phone and give her a call to make her happy?

It’s not like we don’t talk…she just doesn’t feel like she hears from me enough. She wants to know how I’m doing. She wants to know how my family is doing as we prepare to move to Atlanta. She wants to know that we’re safe and feeling good about all the great things taking shape in our life. She wants to know if there’s anything she can do to help.

And it’s really not about how many times we talk, it’s how we continue to build on a loving relationship.

Now while the relationship I have with my grandmother is not quite the same as we have with our donors, there is some relevance. It connects to an excellent question raised by Richard and Jeff at the Veritus Group blog: Are you asking too often or not enough? While they’re largely focusing on major gifts, the questions is applicable to individual donors, volunteers, and supporters at all levels.

We often get wrapped up by our own sense of myths and half-truths. In this case, we feel we shouldn’t bombard our donors with constant asks. Well, when stated like that, there’s some validity to the concern. It would be like me hitting my grandmother up for a few bucks every time we talked. Similarly, if those asks come from an organizational “me-centric” perspective which disregards the value and relationship to the donor, then constant asks will not just annoy them, it will drive them away to give their money and support elsewhere.

However, as Richard and Jeff write, if the messages speak from a place of “we” and “us”, if they’re not always about asking for money, if they’re about building stronger relationships, then those communications take on a new level of meaning and power. In their post, they offer an example of a successful nonprofit, which:

“most likely, was continually telling the donor that her past giving was making a difference, was excitedly talking about what “more we can do together,” and was not shy about talking about need at a variety of times and in a variety of forms. In other words, there were a lot of touches and quite a few points at which the donor could engage and give, i.e., a combination of soft and hard asks.”

Think of it this way. It’s less about frequency (too much or too little) of fundraising appeals. Instead, always ask: Will this communication help deepen our personal donor relationship?

If your answer is, “No” then reconsider why you’re possibly jeopardizing your relationship with someone who cares about your organization’s mission and their desire to be a part of it.


Three Questions For Every PR Professional

I don’t get them everyday, but today I received three emails from assorted PR agencies that kind of struck a nerve. I’m not technically in public relations, but I am heavily involved in communications so I know a thing or two about what works and what really sucks. Don’t worry…this isn’t going to be a “Bash PR” post. Well, at least not totally. Instead, I’m hoping I can offer some feedback to those in the PR profession who might listen and take heed.

Here we go.

First question you need to ask yourself is:
Does this contact actually want to be connected with our agency?
Email #1 was a very brief email from one agency’s Media Researcher (taking a guess that this is a “fresh out of college” type position) who asked:

Could you tell me if this e-mail is still valid as a contact for you at Alchemy of Soulful Work? It keeps bouncing.

Thanks so much.


If you find my email address is bouncing then go to the trouble to visit my site and send an email to my new address, why not invest a wee bit of time to building a relationship? This Media Researcher just missed a golden opportunity to understand what types of communications I’d like to receive. Or even ask if I’d like to continue to receive emails on behalf of their clients. (Ironic sidenote: I no longer use because of all of the PR blast spam I got at this address.)

Just like any other type of email communication (like newsletters), I don’t mind receiving them when the content is fascinating and important to my work. But don’t just assume because you have my email address, that I’m a captive audience who is automatically interested in whatever your client is doing. Apply some permission-based email marketing practices and you might discover better ROI because I’ll be a willing participant in your media outreach.

Relatedly, another question is:
How is my client going to make you look good?
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the awesomeness, amazingness, incredibleness, stupendousness of your client. He or she (or it, if we’re talking about a brand) is paying you to promote their greatness. But no matter how terrific your client is, no blogger or online influential cares if this marvelousness doesn’t rub off on them in some way. So your job is to connect the dots and make the case for why I should take time to read their book or schedule an interview. Deep down, I really don’t care about all the great things your client does if it doesn’t help me achieve my own goals.

And again, remember its not just me you’re pitching. You’re asking me to connect you with my friends, colleagues, readers…in other words, my own social network. Clearly demonstrate what’s in it for me and I’ll be more likely to want to help you.

Finally, the big question you have to ask is:
Why should you want a relationship with me, my agency, and my client?
For the love of all things holy, stop thinking short-term, small ball. That game played out fine ten or twenty years ago but its all changed now. If you’re trying to drive results through cold, impersonal email blasts that don’t address me by name (email works different than fax), include other email addesses in the To: line (yes, unbelievably I know the other email addresses that received the blast), and offer no opt-out provision (which is kind of breaking the law), then have fun on the ride down. I guess that means your client is riding shotgun.

Time to wake up and realize the PR game is now played through relationships.

And it’s not as if these questions are just for PR folks. They’re applicable to customer experience, marketing, and sales folks as well. Just focusing on your side of the action without considering the relationship with the folks on the other side squanders the potential connection. And in this case, everyone suffers.

photo credit: tashland (via Flickr)


The Relationships Of Our Life’s Work

Leave it to Pamela Slim to help me fine-tune something that I’ve been playing around with for a while. As I aim to keep all the various parts of my professional life in some sort of harmonious symmetry, I find myself struggling to define what I am doing. On a near daily basis I ask myself questions like:

How does my career path relate to my current job?
How does my current job relate to my graduate work in business anthropology?
How does my graduate work relate to Bailey WorkPlay?
How does Bailey WorkPlay relate to my career path?
…and so the cycle continues.

Much of the confusion lies in that word ‘job’. I often wonder how the work I do daily relates to where I’m going in my professional life. Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy what I do. Yet, there’s little of the business anthropology that I’m being trained to do and the employee engagement that embodies the focus of Bailey WorkPlay. How does all of this integrate? Or is that just the technicolor dream of a guy who is often accused of being a crazy idealist?

Let’s start with the whole notion of a job. It’s a word that carries some fairly crappy baggage…and more often than not we help pack its bags. By taking the small view of a job, we easily lose sight of our greater professional purpose. Pamela smartly points out:

When you focus first on the perfect job, you automatically narrow your opportunities to jobs you are familiar with. Jobs are temporary things, often enticing on paper until you realize that as soon as you get comfortable in your position, it will change, your boss will change, your team will change or your organization will change. That is just the nature of business. Therefore if you go into a job excited by the position or the person you will be working for and not the work itself, you often set yourself up to be disappointed.

Instead, she encourages us to think about our ‘life’s work’ instead. I’ve been mulling over my own life’s work (or what I tend to think of as a calling) ever since I left college. There are days when I think I have it all figured out only to have something happen that puts my idea of a calling in doubt. Thanks to Pamela I think I now know what happened: I focused a bit too much on the job details of the calling. I know…strangely paradoxical.

Now I have the beginnings of a new perspective on the question of my own life’s work. Where the core of Pamela’s life’s work is transformational, I believe mine is relational. You can see this in the questions I pose to myself above. It’s one of the reasons I chose anthropology since so much of it involves intensive study of human relations. I love taking ideas and seeing how they relate to each other. I love bringing people and ideas together and then helping them see the relationships. I love working in organizations and helping leaders better relate to their employees and customers. This is the core purpose behind my work in business anthropology and Bailey WorkPlay.

And knowing this, I too can be in occasionally rough situations in my job and still remain focused on my core passion of relationships. Even when I’m not actually doing business anthropology or employee engagement, I am helping to generate relationships between people, ideas, and actions every day.

So…here’s a gentle challenge for this week. If you’re struggling to figure out how your job, career path, and life’s work relate to each other, take some time and reflect on the exercise at the end of Pamela’s post. Then come back and share what you believe is your life’s work. I’d love to hear about it and know what I can do to support you.


At Connection Cafe: Is Your Data Collection Unbalanced?

For the Connection Cafe blog this month, I wrote about the need to use a balanced qualitative and quantitative approach to learning about constituents. Here’s a teaser of my latest post…the full post is at the Connection Cafe…

Mixed in with the work that I do at Convio, I’m also pursuing a Master’s degree in business anthropology. If you’re like most folks, you may be wondering what that is exactly. This field is somewhat new even though anthropology as a social science has been around for long time. Basically, business anthropologists work with organizations to help them understand things like staff culture, customer relationships, and product design. That’s fairly broad but at it’s core, we study people and their patterns of behavior. What I most love about it is that we are trained to help non-profits and businesses understand the deeper meaning of what seemingly appears ordinary and everyday…then take what works and amplify it.

For an example, let’s apply a business anthropology approach to a common issue among non-profits: how to better engage constituents. Hopefully you have plenty of metrics showing your email open-rates, donor conversion rates, website flowthrough rates, etc. You may also have survey results and graphical analysis. (And if you haven’t recently done this type of quantitative data collection, no worries…hopefully this post will reinvigorate you.)

Now take it one step further. Most businesses and non-profits commit to collecting quantitative data but usually neglect the qualitative data. The reason for this often rests with some common misperceptions that collecting and analyzing qualitative data is difficult, unmeasurable, and overly time-consuming. But, the fact is that every organization that is committed to developing better relationships with its constituents needs to employ a balanced data collection plan. Strict number crunching usually fails to get at the heart of the things that matter most to non-profit organizations which are people and their emotional connection to your cause. It all comes back to understanding the deeper meaning of things which numbers can only hint at.

In addition to your quantitative measurements, what types of qualitative data collection techniques should you consider? It depends largely on what you’re trying to learn. Start with the big question you want to try to answer. Here are two familiar scenarios:

1. If you host events like walks, pet adoptions, or volunteer pledge drives and want to know why individuals are giving their time (always a highly prized commodity) to your organization, consider a participant-observation program. You’ll be actively participating alongside your constituents, learning about their passions and why they believe your cause matters. Your aim is to see your organization’s relationship through the eyes of others and find the commonalities that they share.

2. If you want to know what exactly will help convert individuals from one-time donors to recurring donors (an even more prized commodity in these economic times!), consider an interview program. This is not just a survey in a different form…think of it as a semi-structured conversation guided by your big question. You’re trying to dive deeper into understanding the major themes of the relationship between your constituents and your organization.

One significant caveat to note here…these qualitative approaches are only effective when performed with a curious objectivity. If you think you already know the answers to your questions, you might want to consider employing another impartial staff member to do them or hire a consultant (a business anthropologist, perhaps?).

This is just a thin, surface-level slice of what a balanced quantitative and qualitative approach can deliver to your organization. My hope is that it sparks some dialogue inside your organization about how to best discover significant patterns and meanings within your constituency; then use this knowledge to improve the effectiveness of your actions. If you’re interested in learning more about the field of business anthropology shoot me an email at, leave a comment below, or follow the business anthropology tag on my own blog.


Five Things That A Playground Can Teach Us About Relationships

This weekend, I took Katie and Leah to one of the many local parks here in Austin. The brilliant thing about our city parks are the really neat playgrounds…and on weekends, there are always a gaggle of kids enjoying the freedom of playing. As I watched, it occurred to me (with a little help from Jason) that there is a lot we can learn about relationships – and in many cases relearn – from observing how kids interact with each other.

1. Lack of judgment
Watch kids play and first thing you notice is that there is a lack of personal judgment taking place. When a new boy or girl enters the scene, they don’t fret and wonder how this fellow player is going to add to their social circle. They don’t worry if hanging around with them is going to build or kill their cred as someone cool or hip. They don’t get hung up in a bunch of the social tangles that we create everyday. The only question they have is whether they want to have fun and play.

2. Sometimes you need a buddy
While kids can go off and play by themselves, they know that the teeter-totter doesn’t work very well with just one rider. And the merry-go-round works way better when someone else helps push. Listen for the laughter on a playground and you’ll likely see a group of kids enjoying the heck out of themselves – together

3. Free to begin, free to leave
There’s no planning, no exchange of business cards, no tearful goodbyes (well, only when you have to actually leave the playground). Kids live In the moment. They’re single-mindedly focused on swinging higher, sliding faster, climbing farther. When a friend leaves, another friend may enter.

4. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow
Notice that there’s never one person ordering others to go push them on the swings or spin them on the merry-go-round. There’s just a mutual sense of helping. And if someone’s hogging all the fun, they get left behind pretty quickly. That built-in sense of fairness means that there’s always a fluid agreement of leadership and followership.

5. It’s all about sharing the experience
For kids, it’s the fun of being together and enjoying the companionship and fellowship of others. There’s an acknowledgement that discovery is better when you can share it with someone else.

If all of this is true, what happened? Unfortunately, we went through that crazy mixed up time called adolescence. We were bombarded by all sorts of messages about what’s cool and hip and dorky and childish. Most of us figured out that some pretty good defensive armor was necessary to survive the hallways of middle and high school. Then, as adults we never stopped to check whether these things we learned during these tough times still work. If we did, we’d recognize that they don’t.

No worries. The cool thing is that as adults, we now have the maturity and insight to come back around to the lessons we intuitively knew on the playground. So, next time you find a playground inhabited by some fun-loving kids, sit down and just observe. And think about how you can bring some of these lessons that may be locked inside of you back out into your work and life.

Any other playground lessons to share?


Would You Consider A Customer Care Strategy With Twitter?

One of my new Twitter follows Chris Rash posted a tweet this morning as a question: Twitter for customer service? Now if you’re not familiar with Twitter you might have read that as “twits in customer service” and thought that’s nothing new. This pervasive public attitude (which isn’t going away) is precisely why companies need to think differently about how they care for their customers. Want to know how to gain a critical advantage on your competitors? Look no further than your probably beleaguered but infinitely valuable customer service team.

Now, whether you like Twitter and other social media tools or not, you have to acknowledge their massive appeal and increasing usage by folks. It’s time to face the facts that social media is no longer the exclusive tool of the techno-savvy. Along with blogging, Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook are now used by a wider audience at all age levels (do a search for grandmothers on Facebook…you might be surprised at what you find). So get off the fence and put on your brainstorming cap – remember to make some for the rest of your team – because it’s time start getting creative in how you maximize these tools to help build stronger business relationships.

If you’re still on the fence and not sure about the value of social media to your services business, here are some thoughts to ponder…

Go where your customers are…don’t expect them to always come to you.
The traditional forms of customer service will never really go away so don’t ditch the phone number and email address. Being accessible and responsive is always going to be the hip and right thing to do. But the rules for gaining and retaining customers are definitely changing. It’s now easier than ever to tell the world about the crappy service you just received or the shoddily-made product that falls apart when you look at it funny. It’s equally easy to tell the world about the wonderful care you just received from a restaurant or how damn reliable and fun to drive your new Honda truck is (yep, that’s my little endorsement for the Ridgeline).

Embrace the personal relationship…just don’t over-construct it.
Too many times, managers like to outwit themselves with all kinds of complicated plans and strategies for how to tap into the next great technology tool. In the process, they tend to focus way more on the tool than the purpose of using that tool…in this case it ought to be to build a better, deeper, more personal relationship with the customer. Going back to the article that Chris tweeted, the decision for Comcast to care and build relationships using Twitter wasn’t a formal decree from the CEO, but an intuitive hunch and nudge from a company executive. (And if there’s a company that needs some positive customer service stories, it’s Comcast.)

And for heaven’s sake…be authentic!
If you decide to use social media, don’t think for a moment you can get away with being phony, disingenuous, or insensitive. The foundation of social media is built on trust and if you betray that trust you might as well hang it up and go back to your old ways of customer service. Remember that you’re doing this as a way to not only build the kind of relationships that retain business, but the kind of relationships that take people from casual customer to raving fans. And it’s raving fans that will hop onto Twitter and tell their networks how fantastic you are.


The Monodimension Of Absolutes

Here are a few phrases that I’ve heard thrown about lately:
Billy is an absolute ass…he’s always out for himself.
Stan never does his job right…I’m always having to pick up the slack for him.
I can’t stand Beth…every time I need something she’s too busy to help.

Note some of the common language used here – always, every, never. These are the kind of absolutes that get in the way of an open perspective and honest dialogue. They position our own thinking about people toward an extreme edge that most folks rarely occupy. Do we really believe that those around us are so one dimensional, so monochromatic? It certainly makes it easier to pin labels on them and make snap judgments.

Since people rarely exist at these extreme fringes, we need to stop trying to force them there. Whenever we think of a person in a very limited way – he’s just this way or she’s just that way – it’s time to think in a more extra-dimensional way. We can’t let laziness or a perceived lack of time get in the way of how we perceive other folks. If we commit to building a more well-rounded, and therefore more human, story about individuals around us we’ll immediately see that they have a rich personality that isn’t so easily pegged by one limiting label.


Don’t Let Your Power Bleed

A friend of mine from the non-profit world is struggling with building influence and political capital in her organization. After talking with her and reading some of her email communications, it’s fairly obvious that one major issue holding her back is something called a power bleed. This is where you give away your power by over-apologizing.

Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps you’ve worked with a power bleeder or maybe performed your version of the bleed in the past. It can be surprisingly easy to do, particularly for us Pleasers working in customer services. When we screw up (or sometimes when we have to take the hit for someone else’s muckup), we want to make sure that the person on the other end knows how apologetic we are. However, there is such a thing as overdoing it and when we go to that extreme, we do ourselves a disservice. We can actually damage the relationship.

Apologizing itself isn’t bad so don’t take this post as a reason for not showing the necessary humility when you make a gaffe like accidentally erasing an important document from your corporate server or failing to meet a project deadline for a client. God knows we need more people in business willing to offer up a sincere apology when things go wrong. Instead, what I’m suggesting is an effluence of mea culpas is not the key to success here. What is the key to stanching a power bleed? Action. To make things right, we need to take action. And by taking purposeful action, we not only harness power for ourselves but we grant power to others in the relationship.

Any good examples out there of where you’ve noticed a power bleed creeping into your conversations and relationships?