The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 35
What Nonprofits Can Learn from IKEA to Increase Support & Impact, with Boris Kievsky
In this Episode:
Can asking your supporters for their help and input actually raise the amount they’re willing to support your nonprofit’s work?
There’s a phenomenon in psychology, studied and demonstrated by behavioral economists, in which people consider something they’ve taken part in creating to be worth more than the same thing made by a professional. This cognitive bias is called the IKEA Effect
In this episode, Boris discusses strategies for nonprofits to capitalize on the power of the IKEA Effect to form a stronger connection with supporters, increasing your perceived value and raising more money for your work.
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Read the Transcript
[00:00:07.250] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-Ding!
[00:00:24.210] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. On today’s show, I’m going to dig into a cognitive bias — a known, seemingly illogical bit of human psychology — that nonprofits have to understand and take advantage of if they want to grow their community and their support base. Many are already doing it, are taking advantage of it without realizing it (including probably your organization one way or another) but they’re not using it nearly to its potential. And today, I really want to dive into all the ways that you can do that to maximize your support base and create more heroes for your cause.
[00:01:02.730] – Boris
Before I do, though, I’d like to tell a little story — and bear with me for a couple of minutes — because I promise, it is actually relevant to what we want to talk about. This weekend, as most people in the U.S. were celebrating Halloween, I attempted to assemble and hang an IKEA set of cabinets for the fourth time. It’s the KALLAX, if you guys are familiar with all the different IKEA ones, where you could configure it into different, kind of, arrangements of drawers and shelves with doors and knock doors.
[00:01:33.570] – Boris
And I’ve assembled dozens probably, by now, of pieces of IKEA furniture over the years. This one didn’t seemingly present a challenge either, to put together at least. I put the two KALLAX boxes together, and then it was time to attach the mounting rails on the wall. If you’re familiar with the system and relates, okay. If you’re not, I’m not trying to advertise IKEA here, but they have these special metal rails that you attach to the wall, and then you can just hang the cabinets onto the rails.
[00:02:04.710] – Boris
Easy enough in theory. Of course, good practice says you should find studs to drill into and to screw the mounting rails into. And I did try to find those… but this wall, as it turns out, doesn’t seem to have studs, at least not in the area that I wanted to hang. The wall is actually adjacent to the garage, so the other side of the wall is inside our garage, the outside is leading towards our den. And it’s a long wall where we wanted to have two, kind of, cabinets on the bottom with large doors and drawers; and then up top, we wanted to have hanging, these additional cabinets to put stuff away out of view. Because, you know, when you have three kids in the house, there’s always things everywhere, and you want to find ways to stow them nicely and hopefully in an organized fashion.
[00:02:51.510] – Boris
Anyway, maybe because it’s the other side of the garage door — the garage wall – but this wall was clearly built differently somehow, and there were no studs for me to screw into. So, I went back out to the hardware store and bought toggle bolts. Which when you push into a wall, there’s a little butterfly thing, or a plastic thing that you could pull back, and it really presses against the back of the wall, keeping anything from pulling through or ripping down. I bought the bolts, drilled the hole, and pushed the toggle bolt in… and hit the garage wall instead.
[00:03:27.990] – Boris
So, apparently there’s a gap between our den wall and the garage wall, and it’s not long enough for the toggle bolt to actually go in and be able to spring open. I tried a couple of different types of bolts, none of them worked. Go back to the hardware store again. This time I buy plastic anchors and metal anchors to screw into the drywall that will hopefully hold a lot of weight. They’re rated 75 pounds each, there’s four per cabinet, two cabinets, but each one would then, theoretically, be able to support 300 pounds —which we have no intention of actually testing — but, should do.
[00:04:08.010] – Boris
So I got those in, and using them, was able to attach the rails to the wall about an inch lower than the ceiling, or actually, where the cabinets would hang about an inch lower than the ceiling. I got the cabinets up with a little bit of heft and some assistance. I was able to actually get them onto the rails and then noticed something a little odd again. Whereas the back of the cabinet was about an inch down from the ceiling, the front of the cabinet was actually literally touching — pressed up against — the ceiling.
[00:04:46.230] – Boris
Now, this would not have necessarily been a problem. I could have let it go, if not for the fact that we want doors on these cabinets and the doors swing out. Which I tried, just to confirm, but makes them actually bump into the ceiling and can’t even open. So unless I’m willing to cut open a section of ceiling, which I’m not prepared to do, I had to think of something else. Either lower the cabinets— which might make them look even stranger, hanging off the wall lower down — or find a way to, kind of, make them vertically level.
[00:05:19.170] – Boris
So I wound up coming up with a solution, which was to use washers. I put washers in as spacers between the wall and the railing, in order to try to get it flush, level with the… Well, 90 degrees to the floor and ceiling, and so the top of the cabinets will be more parallel with the ceiling. That meant, of course, going back out to the hardware store, buying longer screws, buying all kinds of washers because oh yeah, of course, the wall is not consistent to itself. I need a different number of washers in different parts of the wall… quality construction I live in. And after multiple experiments, was actually able to get the rail up relatively straight, relatively vertically straight, and mount the cabinets onto it, in such a way that they were parallel to the ceiling, and parallel and lined up with each other.
[00:06:15.510] – Boris
And the final test… was I able to put the doors on? And voila, hallelujah, they finally opened. Now, you might listen to this story and either think, “why in the world, A) is he telling this story? But B) why didn’t he just call a professional, either to put them up in the first place or when it didn’t work the first time, call someone who knows how to do these things… a handyman, a carpenter, a drywall person, I don’t know. Somebody who actually understands the principles of these types of construction and can do it quicker and probably better in the long run?”
[00:06:52.950] – Boris
Or you might be thinking of a similar experience that you had. Whether it was like me, putting together some piece of IKEA and maybe having extra parts at the end. Or having a Lego set that was incredibly challenging to put together, like the one that one of my kids loves to do. And the interesting thing is that whatever you undertook, as long as you were able to complete it, you’re probably looking back on it with pride. As I do, now every time I walk through that room, basically to the den, I look at those cabinets and I think “there’s something that I was able to do, there’s something that I achieved”.
[00:07:34.230] – Boris
And it actually makes me value them more than if I’d had someone else assemble them and put them up. Which is a little bit odd, but luckily, this is not evidence that I’m crazy (nor is it evidence to the contrary, of course). But luckily for me, this is a phenomenon that has been studied and actually aptly named The IKEA Effect, and this is the cognitive bias that I want to focus on today.
[00:08:03.750] – Boris
A litte over ten years ago, behavioral economists Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely set out to examine this phenomenon that had actually been observed and used by marketers and companies, like IKEA, for decades. In their experiments, they had individuals who were not particularly skilled at assembling furniture or other tasks, to assemble IKEA furniture or build a Lego set that was complicated or fold origami for the first time. They were then asked how much they would pay for the resulting creation, the product of their efforts, and how much they would pay for the same item created by a professional.
[00:08:40.770] – Boris
So if you’ve got some work of origami that you created versus someone else created that is a professional that clearly looks better and more structured, more well-built, whatever it might be, in case of furniture. Overwhelmingly, the participants agreed to pay more — as much as 63% more — for the one that they created, even though their final product was not as well done as the professionally created one, and they were able to see that and admit it. Then they took people who were not part of the creation process and brought them in and asked them the same question about the value of the object. They were asked the value they would assign to someone, to an object, that was professionally assembled versus one that an amateur was assembling.
[00:09:30.750] – Boris
And guess what? They didn’t have the same bias, they preferred the professional one. It seemed to them worth more and more valuable. Well, this is perhaps a strange phenomenon, but if we think about it in a few different ways, we can actually understand it. And nonprofits can harness that same cognitive bias, as it’s called in behavioral science, to create stronger connections and raise more money. The fact is that once someone has participated, as the study shows, in the creation of something — and in your case, the furthering of your mission or the creation of a program — their personal narrative, their identity, expands to include that they are now someone who supports your cause.
[00:10:13.830] – Boris
And with that new identity, they’re more likely to keep supporting through volunteering, amplifying and donating, and raise their support level as they feel more invested and a stronger connection to the results. Positive changes that they want to see in the world. So the more you can make them a part of the process, the more you could involve them in helping you understand what people want and deliver on those things, the more they’re going to take ownership of it, the more — there’s another effect called The Endowment Effect — the more they’re going to endow your work with value and therefore feel it’s more valuable to support.
[00:10:54.450] – Boris
So here are a few ideas that I put together that will hopefully get you thinking about how you can capitalize on the power of the IKEA Effect to create more heroes for your cause. If you will, ways to engage your current and possible new supporters in the work that you’re doing and get them more and more invested in it. The first way is to simply offer more volunteer opportunities. Even in a time like a pandemic that we’re going through now, where not everybody is able to, or interested in, getting together to do something in person, to volunteer.
[00:11:27.630] – Boris
There are ways to get them to volunteer online, to do certain things on your behalf. It will somehow forward your mission. This is a good time to point out that next week, when we get back to our regular type of interview show, we’re going to have on the show Dana Litwin, who is a volunteer engagement expert and will be talking to us about some of the ways that we can activate more volunteers online to get them more connected with our work.
[00:11:56.010] – Boris
The second way is to create behind-the-curtain experiences. If you’ve ever gone to see a Broadway show or any kind of theater, really, and then gone backstage to see how it all works, there’s a certain level of mystery to it. But when you get back there, it doesn’t just go away. It’s not “oh, it’s a trick.” There are no illusions, per se. There are ways that we make things happen in theater and are actually fascinating to see. “Oh, wow. That’s how that puzzle came together. That’s how Mary Poppins was able to fly.” Right? Those are the behind-the-curtain experiences or meet the cast.
[00:12:31.230] – Boris
Well, in your world, you can invite them — physically or virtually — to see how their support is helping further the cause. Helping to create certain results in the world and let them participate in that feel-good moment of service delivery. There was an organization, it still exists — the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization — that I was a part of when I was in high school. And every year, they probably still do this, they have a Passover food drive where they will assemble care packages for folks who cannot go out and buy their own Passover goods, whether they are not able to leave their house or they can’t afford all of the different things that it takes to have a proper Seder, which is the celebratory meal on Passover.
[00:13:20.370] – Boris
So they would invite high school students, like myself and my friends, to come and put the packages together. And then for those of us that had cars, which in my last year of doing it I did, actually go out and drive these packages, deliver these packages to the folks who needed them. Let me tell you, that was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I still recall knocking on doors and elderly people opening the door and seeing this package and the gratitude in their eyes and in their voices was just so incredible for me to experience that, it probably laid a strong foundation for all the other volunteer work that I’ve done since then.
[00:14:04.230] – Boris
It is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to firsthand witness the accomplishment of a mission in some small way. Which, by the way, you could also do virtually. I didn’t have to necessarily go there to drive. If you are delivering goods like that, for example, maybe you can have a camera and have that moment captured on camera. When someone receives the benefit of a donation or some kind of support. Right? Then you could share that out with the people who helped make it happen.
[00:14:38.130] – Boris
The next thing that you could do is a variation on the behind-the-curtain experience, which is invite them to Town Halls. There, supporters can get an inside view and possibly the opportunity to play a part in anything, from the planning of a new program, to the direction of the entire organization. So if you think about your board, for example, they take part in a lot of the decision making and setting the direction for your organization.
[00:15:05.070] – Boris
They are also the most invested supporters for your cause and for your nonprofit. Well, what if you could offer, basically another level of that, to other supporters. To people who do care about the success of your mission. Maybe they’re part of the community, and you can poll them on what services they want, or how they want something delivered, or how something’s working for them, and let them then have that voice that gets incorporated. Now, the danger is, of course, ignoring them if you do ask for suggestions, because then they’ll feel disenfranchised. But this is essentially enfranchisement. Where you’re drawing them in, making them feel like part of the process and the solution. Again, more invested. They will be more likely to want to support it going forward.
[00:15:52.590] – Boris
The next idea is to help connect your supporters to beneficiaries. Now again, in the case of the deliveries that I was doing, it was a very direct experience where I could interact with one of the beneficiaries, and it doesn’t have to be that person-to-person. Although by the way, that could also be done online, where you could set up calls between beneficiaries and benefactors, where there could be some sort of interaction and some sort of personal connection.
[00:16:20.430] – Boris
There’s another organization that I volunteer with, where I get to work hands on with a beneficiary and see their transformation over time — which I can’t take full credit for, but I do feel a sense of pride in — and want to keep supporting. So whether it’s through in-person or indirect through digital means, connectivity, or just through great storytelling, where you could tell the story of the impact that my work or my support has been responsible for, in a way. Then you’re going to once again make me feel more invested in the work that you’re doing.
[00:16:59.070] – Boris
Similar to how every time I walk by the IKEA shelves or there’s a project in the basement where… required some creative plumbing after certain contractors left things, let’s just say, not done. It took me several trips to Home Depot, but I was able to get it done. And every time I go down to the basement, even though most people can’t see it, and to be honest, it’s crude and not pretty, I still feel a sense of pride and accomplishment every time I go down there. So connecting someone to the results of your work and in this case specifically to beneficiaries, forges a really strong bond and makes them want to keep supporting you and donating more.
[00:17:37.290] – Boris
The next one is to give people more agency. What do I mean by that? I like to say that good storytelling, especially on websites and in digital media in general, is a choose your own adventure. Not a linear novel or movie that you can’t touch. Similarly, when we’re talking about trying to engage our supporters, if we give them options of how they want to proceed on their hero’s journey with us and how they want to support the work that we’re doing, which might be, of course, asking them if they would prefer to volunteer or to donate or both.
[00:18:15.810] – Boris
And oftentimes we ask them to donate after they’ve volunteered and to volunteer after they’ve donated. Right? Both of those are, one can easily lead to, or trigger the other. So that’s one way to give them more agency. Another way is even when just asking for donations, which program do they want to support or which result do they want to see? One of the ways that you can really boost your donations is to just simply tie specific numbers, so $50, for example, to specific results. Like supply school supplies for an entire classroom of kids for a year, or a month, or whatever it might be. $50 might not be realistic for a whole year.
[00:18:59.890] – Boris
So if you can tie that, and then show me that my donation has had that impact. Hopefully even connect me in one way or another, and again, it doesn’t have to be direct one-to-one or in-person. It could just be through video or other types of content, storytelling. Connect me to the beneficiaries and the results that, the impact that it’s had on their lives. Well, now I feel like I decided what to do. I.E. Support this particular program or make this particular donation and it had this result, something that I could feel good about and creates reinforcement for me going forward.
[00:19:41.710] – Boris
The last one that I want to share today is, well, if you know me and this show, then I’m all about storytelling. And as I mentioned, the choose your own adventure stories. You have to tell the right kinds of stories, better. As much as possible, use stories to connect your supporters actions to visible, tangible (as much as possible), results in the world.
[00:20:04.210] – Boris
Tell them the stories of impact that their time, their money, their support, whatever way it came in helped make possible. And whatever you do, don’t say, “hey, we did this”. Don’t even just say, “we couldn’t have done it without you”. Be direct. Say, “you did this. You achieved this. You donated this and it created this result” as much as you possibly can. There is a caveat that I want to touch on real quick, which is, don’t ask for too much. Whether you’re creating a volunteer opportunity or you’re asking for a donation.
[00:20:37.870] – Boris
If you ask for too much and/or promise a result that won’t necessarily be achieved, then you’re going to have the opposite effect — the Disenfranchisement Effect — where I’m going to, let’s say I wasn’t able to put together those shelves and hang them, those cabinets. Then every time I walk by there, I’m going to feel like, “oh, this was a failure”. It’s a negative association with the entire process, with IKEA, with mounting things, with my house, whatever it might be. Right? All the opposite effects from what you want to have with your organization’s supporters.
[00:21:11.470] – Boris
So make sure that it’s a donor size problem or a volunteer size problem, that can be achieved. And then, of course, tell them how much their work was able to do, how much change it was able to create in the world. You don’t have to remember all of this and you don’t have to take extensive notes. Of course, we have show notes for everything that I’m talking about in this episode. I also have a blog post called The IKEA Effect on the dotOrg Strategy website that you could check out. Again, it’ll be linked in the show notes for this.
[00:21:46.270] – Boris
If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate behavioral science in your organization, in your work, I highly recommend that you check out Episode 19 with Dr. Beth Karlin, where we talked about several different cognitive biases and elements of behavioral science, psychology, behavioral economics that you can use and should be, at least, aware of in your communications and your work as an organization.
[00:22:13.870] – Boris
Be sure, of course, to check back next week where we’re going to have our interview with Dana Littwin, talking about the ways that you could do the first thing that I talked about today in terms of increasing supporter investment, which is more volunteer opportunities online during times of pandemic or all year round.
[00:22:32.590] – Boris
In the meantime, if you enjoyed this episode and I really hope you did, please be sure to subscribe to the show on YouTube or your favorite podcast app so you can know when new episodes come out and please leave a review on iTunes, so that more people can discover this program and we can help them activate more heroes for their cause as well. As always, thank you so much for all the work that you do to make the world a better place for all of us, and I look forward to seeing you again next week. Bye bye.
[00:23:02.410] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform, and let us know what you think by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- Boris shares a recent personal example of the IKEA Effect. (1:12)
- Placing a higher value and attachment on items that someone has built themselves is known as the IKEA Effect. (7:45)
- Once someone has participated in the furthering of your mission, their narrative expands to include that they now support your cause. (9:56)
- Invite your supporters to participate in the feel-good moment of seeing how their support is helping further the cause. (12:30)
- It’s powerful to experience the accomplishment that comes from a mission being completed in some way. (14:04)
- An example of this being seeing someone receive a donation, whether it’s in-person or digitally through a camera.
- Allow your supporters to have a voice. Taking part in processes and solutions for your organization leads to greater investment. (14:45)
- Connecting someone to the results of their work creates a bond and leads to continued support and donations. (16:20)
- Provide supporters with options regarding how they want to proceed on their hero’s journey and how they want to support the work being done. (17:55)
- Connect your supporters’ actions to visible and tangible results in the world using stories about the impact that their time, money and support made possible. (19:55)
- Asking for too much or promising a result that is not likely to be achieved results in a negative effect. (20:37)
- Cognitive biases and elements of behavioral science, psychology, and behavioral economics you should be aware of as an organization are discussed in Episode 19 with Dr. Beth Karlin. (21:56)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Boris KievskyChief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy
Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.