Manipulation or Influence?

At a recent conference, I introduced the work of Robert Cialdini, author of Influence and Presuasion. We were talking about how to motivate nonprofit board members, and I shared two possible approaches to moving a board member to raise money:

Option 1: You are on this board because you care about this mission. We really need to raise $10,000 at this event. Every board member should do their part inviting friends and giving funds.

Option 2: You have already shown great courage and commitment by stepping forward into the board member role. Your leadership makes an important difference in our ability to achieve our mission. I am going to ask that you do one more courageous thing and reach out to your friends and invite them to join us in our work.

As participants got involved in an activity, a man pulled me aside to tell me that he was bothered by Option 2. It was manipulative, and he didn’t think that we should be manipulating board members into doing things.

It seemed like a very nonprofit response. A huge body of evidence shows that people are motivated by their emotions. Companies use this research to get consumers to buy their products. (Cialdini gives some interesting examples here.) Wouldn’t it be powerful if nonprofits took what we know about influence and used it for good?

As Jeff Brooks writes on his blog, we don’t avoid emotions in Option 1 since everything we say or do signals some emotion, possibly not the ones we intend.

As Allen Gannett writes in Fast Company, the difference between manipulation and persuasion comes down to one question: is what you are asking in the person’s best interest?

As influence expert Alex Swallow says on a recent podcast, effective influence creates a win-win outcome that lasts.

Boards members by definition should care deeply about the mission of the organization on whose board they serve. It is in their best interest that they are motivated to do anything they can to support the cause they love. I truly believe that board members are the superheroes of our communities, taking on the most important social issues of our time as volunteers.

Beyond nonprofit boards, we hold the power to make lasting change when we move from information sharing to imagination capturing, habit shifting, and action inspiring.  It will take courage to step into this new space. But you have already shown great courage and commitment. Why not do one more courageous thing and give (intentional) influence a try.

Photo by Neil Bates on Unsplash


Upcoming event: I’m speaking on February 1 as a part of the Learning Technology Design conference. In Chunk Flip Guide Laugh: Creating Learning Tools That Lead to Action, we will walk through Discover, Design, and Delivery, and I’ll share some stories behind Washington Nonprofits’ popular toolkits.


 

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