You know what a wonderful experience it is to be with someone who consistently keeps commitments. You also know how frustrating it is when someone says they will do something, and then you never hear a peep out of them. This area of commitment and consistency is Principle #3 in this series on the use of persuasion and influence in major gift fundraising. (The first two principles I discussed are reciprocation and liking. You may want to read them first.)
Dr. Robert Cialdini says that we have a deep desire to be consistent. For this reason, once we’ve committed to something, we’re then more inclined to follow through with it. For instance, he says, you’d probably be more likely to support a colleague’s project proposal if you had shown interest when he first talked to you about his ideas.
Dr. Cialdini goes on to say that people do not like to back out of deals. We’re more likely to do something after we’ve agreed to it verbally or in writing, he says. People strive for consistency in their commitments. They also prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions.
He then talks about an experiment in this area. In 1987, social scientist Anthony Greenwald approached potential voters on the eve of Election Day to ask whether they would vote, and asking them to provide reasons why or why not. 100% said they would vote. On Election Day, 86.7% of those asked went to the polls, compared to 61.5% of those who were not asked. Those who publicly committed to voting on the previous day proved more likely to actually vote.
Brady Josephson frames this principle as follows: “If people take a small action or pledge, they are more likely to take another action and follow through.”
Here are some key points to apply in your work with the donors you’re working with:
- Your donors want to be both consistent and true to their word. When you get them to commit to anything, it moves them closer to you. You might even ask something like this: “Name, I know you are interested in X here at the organization. Would you commit to thinking about how we might get more people to support the X program here? It would be really helpful.” Securing a commitment from the donor to just think about it is moving the needle in the right direction.
- When you ask for a commitment, you must always explain “why.” The donor needs to connect intellectually to the rationale for your request and agree with it before she can take an action.
- Ask a donor to volunteer – it moves him up the commitment ladder.
- If you get a donor to say ‘yes,’ it makes him more powerfully committed to an action that follows.
- The fact that a donor made a pledge may often be more important than the amount of the pledge. The pledge is a commitment. Just giving a single gift has less “commitment and consistency” energy in it.
- Age matters. Dr. Cialdini writes: “The older we get, the more we value consistency. And that makes it harder for older people to make a change. Researcher Stephanie Brown co-authored a 2005 study titled ‘Evidence of a positive relationship between age and preference for consistency,’ published in the Journal of Research in Personality. The study confirmed the belief that older people become ‘set in their ways.’ The solution? Praise them for making good past decisions, based on the information they had at the time. Then find ways to stress the consistent values connecting old actions [and donations] with values underlying any new actions [or donations].”
- Be very sure to report back on the results of commitments made and executed. This is key. You may gain a commitment. You may receive the follow-up on that commitment. And then, because you did not adequately report back, you may lose the relationship. The commitment and the follow-through on the commitment are not a guarantee of future donor involvement. You must complete the commitment cycle: Commitment -> fulfillment of commitment -> report on the difference the commitment made.
There is something very powerful about gaining any form of a commitment from your donor. I suggest you do three things with every donor on your caseload:
- Identify a commitment you seek to secure from each donor. It could be very small. It does not matter. Just gain a commitment.
- For every commitment that has been fulfilled or is in the process of being fulfilled, be very sure you have a plan to report back on the difference that commitment made.
- Make sure you are behaving consistently with each donor. Consistency brings comfort and security.
The core concepts for this series come from the writings of Dr. Robert Cialdini, who has written extensively about the ethical use of influence, and from my colleague Brady Josephson, who has taken Dr. Cialdini’s work to a new level when he took his six principles of influence and reframed them for fundraising. I encourage you to follow their work.