Fundraisers: Heed George Costanza’s Warning On Relationships

Worlds collide at the expense of Seinfeld’s George Costanza in one famous episode, “killing” independent George. The theory of the episode is that it is important to separate romantic and social relationships.

During the recent Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference in National Harbor, Md., Otis Fulton, behavior consultant for TurnkeyP2P, and Lance Slaughter, executive vice president, chapter relations and governance, for the ALS Association, similarly discussed the importance of separating organizational social and marketing relationships during their session “Dollar Dash — Leveraging Social Influence to Maximize Fundraising and Mission Alignment.”

Labels and doing the right thing are important to supporters, Fulton said. Studies have shown that individuals have greater affinity for those who they have helped than those who have helped them because who the former is says something about the individual. Recognition and sociability are also deeply engrained in us dating back to our ancient ancestors who relied on communication and recognition to communicate food sources.

Of the billions of dollars given away by individuals every year, just 1 percent is given away anonymously, he noted.

Recognition was an important component of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Slaughter added. Supporters were able to use their hand-held devices to show their creativity in meeting the challenge and receive recognition in that respect. Slaughter also encountered the importance of social relationships while at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Los Angeles affiliate. While he was there during the mid-2000s, Slaughter said that just 40 percent of endurance-event participants had an affinity with blood-disorder causes. LLS Los Angeles, instead, drew supporters in with a market relationship — highlighting the experience of participating in an endurance event and the training that would be provided.

Participation slowly turned into a social value, as participants connected both with those they were training with and those afflicted with blood disorders, Slaughter said. While LLS was able to make the marketing to social transition, the speakers advised attendees to be wary of intersecting the two.

Fulton provided an example of parents of preschoolers in Israel. The schools were having a problem with late pickups a few years ago, so parents were charged the equivalent of $3 for each late pickup. The late-pickup rate ballooned from 25 percent to 40 percent. Eight weeks later, the experiment was stopped and late pickups continued to rise to nearly 50 percent. The problem was, according to Fulton, the schools made a social relationship — the right thing to do is pick up their child on time — into a market relationship — there was a price associated with not picking up their child on time. It’s hard to pivot from a social relationship, to a market one, and then back, Fulton said.

    Tips provided during the session on promoting positive self-labels and avoiding the collision of market and social worlds included:

  • Connect the supporter to your community. A study showed that Girl Scouts’ cookie sales increased by 28 percent when they connected the buyer to community by either identifying a personal relationship between the family of the Girl Scout and family of the buyer or a sense of neighborhood;
  • Find a way to say “thank you.” This might be difficult to make personalized, but brainstorm ways such as putting top supporters up in front of groups;
  • Avoid discounts, price jumps, and the like. Such promotions bring to mind a market relationship as opposed to a social one; and,
  • Don’t assume that more expensive is better when recognizing supporters. Inexpensive wristbands and T-shirts go a long way so long as they are branded. Giving Starbucks gift cards, for instance, makes it easy for the supporter to know how much something cost. Branded apparel is otherwise unavailable and thus more valuable.