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Hacking your fundraiser part 1

Recently my inbox has been flooded with requests to donate to numerous admirable and worthy fundraisers – fundraisers for finding a cure for cancer, fundraisers for helping the impoverished all around the world, and fundraisers to help displaced people. Good stuff!

As part of my work with Changing the World 101 I often help students and clubs maximize the effectiveness of their fundraising campaigns. Over the years I’ve come across a few very effective psychological tricks that really help. I want to share four of the best here. This post will share the first two and next week I will cover the others.

1) The donation jar/counter technique

Have you ever watched a baby do something new for the first time? Lets say it’s a somersault. Since somersaults are brand new to the baby it has no idea how to respond. It’s internal narrative would be something along the lines of, “holy shit! what just happened? I have no clue about what to do right now. ” Ok – I doubt the baby is cursing, but you get the idea.

Since the baby doesn’t know what to do it looks towards it’s caretaker to see how to respond. In most cases if the caretaker laughs and smiles, the baby will laugh and smile; if the caretaker cries and screams the baby will cry and scream.

In other words the baby gets its social cueing from other people.

Here is the interesting thing about that phenomena: it never goes away. Everyone, to some degree, looks towards their surroundings to understand how to behave. I know I do this all the time.

Have you ever been in a shopping center when a loud alarm goes off but no one seems concerned? That’s social cueing. Theoretically we should panic when we hear that alarm, but since the people around us aren’t panicking, we don’t either (or if we are panicking we usually hide it).

You can take advantage of social cueing in your fundraisers. If you are using a donations jar, before the event starts put in one or two hundred dollar bills, a handful twenties, and a bunch of fives. This way when people wonder, “how much should I donate?” they will see that (apparently) people have already donated a lot of money to you. They will think to themselves, “wow – this is an awesome cause that people really want to donate to. I guess I should too!”

If you are running an electronic fundraiser you can do something similar. Most electronic fundraisers have some sort of “honor roll”, “contributors” or “thank you” list on the side. This list is a simple display of people who have already donated and in some cases how much they donated. People can also choose to donate anonymously but still have their amount displayed. This is what you want to do.

Lets say you are planning on donating 20 of your own dollars to your fundraiser. Instead of lumping it in as $20, make three donations to yourself – one for $10, one for $7, and one for $3. Or ask someone who you know is going to donate to do so in that manner. Doing so will create the social cue that people look for when they decide whether or not to donate, and how much.

2) Give things away for free

Are you giving a talk or hosting some other type of event to raise money? If so then be sure to give things away for free. They don’t have to be expensive. Consider buying refreshments in the way of coffee, tea, cakes, cookies, and if appropriate, wine and beer. Begin the event by saying “I want to thank you just for coming out this afternoon. I really appreciate your concern for the cause. As a very small token of my appreciation I bought refreshments for everyone here. Please feel free to help yourself. It’s my small way of saying thank you for the help!”

If you are mailing out fundraising letters, consider mailing them in individual hand made cards that you make yourself.

By giving things out for free – whether they are nice cards you clearly spent time on, or refreshments, or even small inexpensive gifts – you are creating a relaxed and caring environment that puts people in a generous mood. It shows how much you care about your cause and creates an atmosphere of generosity that translates into higher donations for the cause!

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