Take in a Saturday matinee or put in a shift at the soup kitchen? Buy a louder sound system or donate a bigger chunk to charity? Inhale a box of Fruity Pebbles or fletcherize a bowl of bran? The ancient struggle between what we want to do and what we should do besets our species at every turn. And in the clinch, virtue often loses to desire.
The fall issue of the Standford Social Innovation review has a nice piece of research, useful to fundraisers (but unfortunately only available to subscribers):
Don’t make them act now, but later
Researchers Todd Rogers and Max H. Bazerman have discovered a way to help people choose their shoulds and not their wants. Its actually quite simple: don’t make them act now, but later.
When you give people the opportunity to make binding choices that will go into effect in the future … they are much more likeley to do what they think they should do, rather than what they want to do.
We all know from our own experience, that thinking about the future is different from thinking about the present. Tomorrow morning, I’ll go jogging. Next week, I’ll drink less. Well, but do you???
When considering the future “people think about high level goals: What is this action good for?, explains Rogers, who conducted the research at Harvard Business School. “But in the present, they think about concrete outcomes: what are the immediate consequences of this action for me?”
The researchers explored a range of scenarios with over 900 participants, from plans that would make automatic retirement account contributions (a should), while reducing take-home pay (an undesirable) to policies that would reduce overfishing (a should), while increasing the prize of fish (an undesirable).
Ask for future donations
Rogers points out that non-profits can easily apply this principle to fundraising. When appealing to donors one should emphazise that their contributions will be implemented in the future. This recommendation is confirmed by another research which found out that donors to a Danish non-profit upped their regular donations when asked to do so in the future, rather than in the present.
People struggle to make the choices they know they should make and, at a profound level, wish that they did make, says Rogers. By designing appeals and policies that emphasize the future rather than the present, non-profits … can help the should beat out the wants.