Category Archives: Nonprofit

Presentation matters to motivation

I’ve recently been pondering how to motivate workers. I’m mostly interested in how to motivate volunteers in a nonprofit organization — a “cause”. Just a day after writing about it, I found a section in Made to Stick with good insight:

We may mistakenly think that people are motivated by the pursuit of baser needs, while we ourselves are motivated by loftier ideals. The book calls this living in the penthouse of Maslow’s pyamid while believing others live in the basement.

Imagine that a company offers its employees a $1,000 bonus if they meet certain performance targets. There are three different ways of presenting the bonus to the employees:

  1. Think of what that $1,000 means: a down payment on a new car or that new home improvement you’ve been wanting to make.
  2. Think of the increased security of having that $1,000 in your bank account for a rainy day.
  3. Think of what the $1,000 means: the company recognizes how important you are to its overall performance. It doesn’t spend money for nothing.

When people are asked which positioning would appeal to them personally, most of them say No. 3….

Here’s the twist, though: When people are asked which is the best positioning for other people (not them), they rank No. 1 most fulfilling, followed by No. 2. That is, we are motivated by self-esteem, but others are motivated by down payments. This single insight explains almost everything about the way incentives are structured in most large organizations. (Made to Stick, pp. 184-85)

So, the question isn’t just whether or not to give an incentive or bonus, but also how to present it.

If you’re motivated by a cause, an incentive may even offend you. When firefighters were offered a free copy of a safety video to review, they readily accepted it. When offered a free popcorn popper as a thank you for reviewing the safety video, one firefighter said, “Do you think we’d use a fire safety program because of some #*$@%! popcorn popper?!” (p. 188)

My Freedom to Give

I’m reading Peter Drucker’s Managing the Nonprofit Organization. During his interview with Dudley Hafner, then CEO of the American Heart Association, they discuss charitable giving as a form of speech:

Peter Drucker:

My European friends always point out how low the taxation rate is in the United States. I say, you are mistaken because we voluntarily cough up another 10 percent of GNP for things which in Europe are either not done at all, like your work, or run by the government with the individual having absolutely no say in where the money is to be spent. That’s a point the public does not understand. Would you agree?

Dudley Hafner:

I agree. There’s a couple of things about this that are very, very important to me personally. First of all, campaigns such as the American Heart Association or the Salvation Army or the Girl Scouts let people get involved, and that becomes important because they do become advocates. The other thing I think that is unique about these United States is the fact that charitable giving is as much a force in the freedom of democracy as the right of assemblage or the right of vote or the right of free press. It’s another way of expressing ourselves very, very forcefully. Someone who pays taxes does not think of himself or herself as getting involved in the welfare program. But if they become involved in a Salvation Army activity or the Visiting Nurses program, they are involved. They are involved spiritually and they are involved monetarily. That makes a difference.

Only a European could say the U.S. tax rate is low. I’m already paying for programs and services I don’t want, and the U.S. government was never meant to be this big.

Charitable giving to nonprofit organizations allows citizens to vote with their checkbooks for causes they care about. Nonprofits must market their causes persuasively, administer their programs effectively, and be accountable to their donors. Donors, in turn, become advocates for the causes they support and take ownership in the outcome. Compare this with the government model of taking money from citizens by force to fund programs they don’t want, administered by bureaucrats who don’t care.

Donating to social causes I care about, and not donating to social causes I don’t care about, is a form of speech. For all the politicians clamoring to protect my freedom of speech, I don’t see many trying to protect this one.