Every 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 into these workshops 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.
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 accidently 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 hairclips 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.