How do you motivate motivation?

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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The One Thing You Need to Know: Get out and meet people! Meeting someone who will benefit from your work will increase your perseverance, long-term motivation, and success.

Your Motivation Mojo

Motivation is elusive.

For instance, you get all pumped up to work out five days a week. It all starts off really well. You kickbox and yoga the heck out of your newly minted gym pass and jaunty workout gear, yes you do. Quite a week. Motivation mojo is in awesome mode.

Fast-forward to week three. It is 6AM. Your BodyCombat class starts in 30 minutes and rather than donning your workout gear, you stare lovingly at the snooze button…

Zap! Just like that, your motivation mojo goes missing.

This happens in all aspects of our lives. It’s one thing to lose your gym mojo. It’s another thing to lose your work mojo. Because in your line of work, when you lose your mojo, the people you serve lose out as well.

Want to know something magical? You can keep your motivation mojo motivated simply by meeting someone that your work benefits. This is true for you, your staff, your volunteers, your board–everyone. Indeed, this motivation trick works on everyone, regardless of their role.

Researchers did a series of experiments on people working in a fundraising organization. These folks raised money by working the phones. In the experiment, one group interacted briefly with a beneficiary. The other group read a letter from a beneficiary and talked about the letter amongst themselves, i.e. no contact.

Guess what? A month later, the group that read the letter saw basically no difference in persistence or job performance. However–and this is a BIG however–the group that interacted with the beneficiary showed way more persistence (142% more phone time) and job performance (171% more money raised).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although this research took place in a fundraising organization, the researchers were not thinking of this as advancing an understanding of fundraising. No, they were looking at it through the lens of organizational psychology and the importance of word design to increase task significance and thereby motivation and effectiveness. So, yes, it applies to fundraising. But the application is much broader and, therefore, more widely relevant.

Want more on motivation?

  1. Read the study, Impact and the Art of Motivation Maintenance, right here.
  2. If you find yourself needing the motivation to write, go meet a beneficiary, and then turn on Written Kitten. Right your little heart out!
  3. Try out a Pomodora Timer. (I am a big fan of the ‘Awwesome’ option. Go ahead, try it.)

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Totally Irrational

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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The one thing you need to know: 

Don’t mention all the people/puppies/trees that someone’s donation will fall short of helping. Focus on what it will help.

So, what’s the deal?

We’re totally irrational about our charitable giving. We like to think we’re rational. But when it comes down to it, we’re just not. (My fave piece on this is Homer Simpson for Nonprofits.)

This plays out in a bunch of different ways. But one specific way has to do with how you frame your stories. Per the last Language Lab post, you’re writing stories that shine a bright light on one super amazing person (or puppy…I’ll stop with the puppies now) that a donor could help, right? Right.

It’s oh-so-tempting to mention that there are other people who also need help. Big, epic social issues generally involve more than one person. Feels weird not to mention the other people. But do so at your own peril. Because as soon as you mention all the others–zap!–all the magic disappears.

The donor is now focused on the unmet need. They get sad and unhappy. They feel like their donation couldn’t possibly make a difference so what’s the point? Instead of making a donation, they drag themselves to the nearest Starbucks and drown their charitable sorrows in a double tall, split shot vanilla latte made with organic, wholesome milk.

For the same price that they just spent on their latte, the donor could’ve made a difference in someone’s life. But they no longer felt like they could.

Hot Tips

  • If you’re going to mention more than one person, adhere to WJ Lecky’s idea of an expanding circle. It starts with the individual and then goes to the family then the community, etc. Unify more people together into one as you go.
  • Harken back to what you learned about unit-asking. If you need to show the larger context, ask your supporter to think about what they would give to help one person first. Then–and only then–expand to more people.
  • Riff on the Starfish & the Boy story. (The little boy sure teaches the sourpuss man a thing or two, doesn’t he?)
  • Or riff on: “To the world, you may be but one person. But to one person, you may be the world.”

P.S. Countdown to Fall Quarter at Claxon University is on: only 76 days left. Unleash your awesome this fall! (These fine folks did. You can, too.)

The Story of One. And Only One.

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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In the last Language Lab, we talked about how oxytocin and dopamine generate generosity. I said there was more to say about oxytocin and storytelling. Here’s the more.

The One Thing You Need to Know: Tell stories about one person. Not thousands of people. Or hundreds of people. Or even two people. One person. Singular.

Why One Works
You’ve likely heard the saying: “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” (Who said this first is up for debate, by the way.) These are words to live by if you’re looking to get people jazzed about your world-changing work.

But why? The arithmetic of compassion. That’s why.

Watch this:

  • Visualize one puppy
  • Now visualize 1,000 puppies

Which visual was stronger? Likely the one of the one puppy. Your brain could fill in all the adorable details–her brown eyes, her black, twitching nose, her cinnamon colored, white speckled ears. Oooooooohhhh. Adorbs!

What about the image of the 1000 puppies? Still cute. Cuz they’re puppies. But fuzzy. Lacking details. Just a mass of puppiness.

Fuzzy masses aren’t compelling.

Bonus Bit: Not only do people respond more to one person/puppy, they feel better when they’ve helped that one person/puppy. So by telling the Story of One, you not only grab people’s attention more easily, but–if it comes to pass that they donate–they feel better about their donation. (Can you say “win/win”?)

Important Stuff

Countdown to Fall Quarter at Claxon University has begun: only 88 days left. Unleash your awesome this fall! (These fine folks did. You can, too.)

Love Drug or Moral Molecule?

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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The One Thing You Need to Know: You will be more successful if you create trust with your donors/supporters/other important people in your life by avoiding jargon and using easy-to-understand language.

RELEASE THE DRUGS*

Look at this picture. Soak it in.

Look at those two. Cute, right? Want to know something neat? That mum’s brain is awash in a chemical called ‘oxytocin’. Mmmmmm….oxytocin. Frequently referred to as the Love Drug, oxytocin makes us feel happy, nice, and generous.

But here’s the really important thing about oxytocin as it relates specifically to doing more good in the world: oxytocin it’s not just the Love Drug, it’s the Moral Molecule.

You see, we get all those happy, snuggly, generous feelings when social bonding occurs. Super smartie Paul Zak’s coined the term, “The Moral Molecule”. He wrote a book by the same name. In it, he explains that social bonding occurs when you trust someone. The person on the receiving end of a trust-inducing gesture reciprocates trust and also pays it forward. And–voila–you have a generosity fueling trust-fest. See how that could be useful for you?!

Neat news: you can initiate feelings of trust by doing exactly the same things I recommended you do not seem like a fraud. To review:

There’s actually another cool thing to know about oxytocin and its (practically) magical ability to get people psyched about your work. Oxytocin explains why telling a story that focuses on one person in need, vs. lots o’ people in need, works so well. But I think we’ve covered enough for today. We’ll cover the Story of One research in the next Language Lab, okay?

Want a deeper dive?

Check out Paul Zak’s piece on what narrative exposure (yes, that’s an actual term) has to do with charitable giving.

Also think about signing up for Claxon University–home of clear and compelling communication that raises awareness, increases, and does more good in the world. Fall Quarter registration is now open!

*Technically, a drug is a foreign substance that you introduce into the body. So, if you make it yourself it isn’t a drug. It’s a chemical. But “Release the Chemicals” wasn’t as zippy. And hey, check you out. Reading the fine print. Way to go, word nerd!

Don’t be a fraud

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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The One Thing You Need to Know:
Avoid jargon and keep readability high if you want to avoid coming off as deceptive and, in turn, turning off your supporters.

What’s all this about being a fraud?
When you’re communicating, you want people to trust you, right? You don’t want them wondering if you’re legit.Turns out, there are specific cues that send a “I’m not being straight with you” message, including:

  • Using longer words
  • Using fewer unique words
  • Using lots of punctuation
  • Having lower readability
  • Being full of jargon

Are you making matters worse?
Based on research done by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, we know that one in three Americans lack faith in charities. What if you’re sending out those “I’m not being straight with you” cues without even knowing it?

From the Wordifier research, we know one thing that’s definitely making matters worse: on average nonprofits only use 810 unique words on their websites. That’s a mere .03% of the words available in the English language. Does the miniscule number of words nonprofits use reinforce mistrust?  As a sector, could we increase donors’ faith in charities by increasing the number of unique words we use?

So what can you do to increase trust?

Want a deeper dive?
Check out this report and this one for text analysis of fraudulent writing.

Also think about signing up for Claxon University–home of clear and compelling communication that raises awareness, increases donations, and does more good in the world!