A Winning Year-End

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on November 30th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

1 comment

It’s the last month of the last quarter of the strangest year any of us has ever experienced. Despite unprecedented challenges, we as nonprofits still need to maximize our return in this last month. We cannot let these experiences interfere with what it takes to be successful. And while many are reporting their finances are okay, there is also great angst about 2021, putting even more pressure on the need to end 2020 with a bang.

Maybe some really well done research out of Northwestern’s Kellogg School, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Cincinnati, can provide some fodder for your remaining efforts to coax gifts from your donors.  

While normally I’d next carefully explain the research, this time, I’m going to cut to the chase: unhappy people don’t want to do things that will make them feel happy. According to the first part of this research, though a bare majority of  people in bad moods like to imagine doing something to make them feel happy, they are actually far less likely to do that thing that would make them happy than those who are in a self-described “neutral” mood.  

The research tells us that facial expressions of happiness (i.e., a smile) can override a bad mood allowing those people in a bad mood to opt to do things that would make them happy. Thus, a person in a bad mood who is made to smile—even if it is a forced smile as in this research, where people were forced to have a biscuit between their teeth that caused their facial muscles to look like they were smiling—will opt to do something enjoyable at the same rate as those in a neutral mood. So, make people smile and, regardless of their mood, they will be more likely to make a donation, assuming making a donation is viewed as enjoyable (which so much other research has found to be true). 

What really motivates those in a bad mood to prefer to do something enjoyable was when they were told to think about how they would feel after having done it. In other words, considering the outcome of having done the “feel better” option led more people to pick the “feel better” option than those who were asked to just imagine doing the “feel better” option.

As previously noted, research spanning decades has shown that people enjoy the “feel good” result of giving to nonprofits, regardless of the reason behind the good feeling. Thus, whether folks get that warm, fuzzy feeling from knowing they have helped others or assuaged guilt or earned brownie points or whatever reason, we know that for so many, actually giving to nonprofits produces its own endorphins, metaphorically speaking.  

Therefore, in asking folks to support your organization this year, you can do double good:  you can bring in money to support your cause, while also helping those who are feeling down—whether from being isolated and alone, having their holiday cheer dampened by being unable to do the usual things they love to do this time of year or feeling generally stressed—do something to make them feel better. Pitch it right by helping them think about how they will feel after having given. In a year filled with loss, make it a win-win. 

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.