“Switch” the Way You Ask for Action – 11NTC

Dan Heath, co-author of Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard (Amazon) delivered a rousing keynote at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in DC last week. I read the book when it first came out, and was still completely enthralled by the presentation.

Dan Heath at NTCI’m giving away a free copy of Switch — read on for details on how to enter the drawing.

The premise of the book is that change doesn’t always have to be hard or resisted. After all, getting married and having kids are huge life changes that most of us joyfully accept. The key, according to Dan, is understanding the Elephant (the emotional mind) and the Rider (the rational mind) in all of us.

Our Elephants can make us do stupid things, even when the Riders in us know they aren’t good ideas. “Of course you deserve to eat a whole pint of ice cream” and “checking your email for the millionth time isn’t procrastinating” and “it’s a fine idea to call your ex after too many drinks” are all things the Elephant says, according to Heath.

But that doesn’t mean our Elephants are villains. Elephants are also the creative ones who say “Wouldn’t it be cool if . . .” They also stop the Rider from sinking into too much “paralysis by analysis” by telling the Rider, “OK, that’s enough. Let’s move on and do this.”

So how can we get the Elephant and the Rider to work together? Switch outlines three steps:

1. Direct the Rider

One of the easiest and best ways to direct the rider is to train ourselves to stop focusing on problems and to start finding the bright spots — what is working — and to focus on replicating those instead.

For example, focusing on the problem sounds like this:  ”Not enough people have ‘liked’ our Facebook page. How can we reach people who haven’t liked our page and get them to click the Like button?”

Focusing on the bright spots would mean asking the people who have already liked the page why they did so. Find out what your brought your current fans to you and do more of that.

You are still giving your rider something to analyze, but it’s focused on the positives and what’s already working. As Dan said, people call friends for advice on relationship problems and talk your ear off, but they don’t call to discuss why their other relationships are so great (but they should, because that could solve the problem with bad relationship!)

What are the ingredients of your success? What were you doing when things were really fun and everything went smoothly? Those are your bright spots. Do more of that. Here’s how to enter the book drawing: Share your bright spots below in the comments, and I’ll randomly select one commenter as the winner.

2. Motivate the Elephant

Elephants are motivated by emotion, not education, plain and simple. No amount of facts and figures will change the Elephant — that’s all interesting to your Rider only.

Dan says that most people think the change process goes like this: Analyze > Think > Change. But it doesn’t. It’s much more like See > Feel > Change. This is exactly why you need to tell stories and give lots of examples in the content you create for donors, rather than rattling off a bunch of bullet points.

If change starts with a feeling, what feeling should it be? Dan talked about how nonprofits have historically used Pity (the Sally Struthers model of flies on eyes) and Guilt (taping the nickel to the direct mail appeal).  He provided several good examples of why this approach back fires and chided the nonprofit sector for thinking that 1-2% response rates on direct mail were satisfactory. He urged us to focus on Hope and Success more than negative emotions like Pity and Guilt.

3. Shape the Path

Dan also talked about the importance of giving people clear instructions. This part of the talk produced my favorite quote of the day:

A jerk with a map is better than a saint without one. In other words, with clear directions, even people who are otherwise labeled as selfish will end up giving more than good-hearted people who are aren’t told how to help.  When you obsess about the path, you greatly increase the odds that people will follow through on your call to action. That’s why it really does matter how many clicks it takes to get to your donation page, or to register for your event.

Finally, Dan urged us to accept failure as part of the path to success. He used this quote from a tobacco control campaign in California to illustrate:

“It took you years to start smoking. Why did you think you could quit the first time?” He also showed us a video of a baby learning to walk. The parents urged the baby to keep trying. When the baby fell, they didn’t say, “Well, I guess he isn’t cut out for walking.”

Greatness requires struggle. Change requires adaptation. Great change happens every day.

Book Drawing for a Copy of Switch

To enter the book drawing for a copy of Switch, leave a comment on this post sharing a “bright spot” in your work that you or your organization could try to replicate, rather than focusing on what’s missing.

  • Edirector

    The Child Care Resource Center in Lorain, Ohio is providing training to child care providers on this book “Switch”. Funding cuts and issues hitting all sectors of education are making the future questionable for many businesses.
    We love this book and the message it sends!

  • http://www.theimprovegroup.com Susanm

    This is serendipity. Dan’s comment about accepting faulre as a part of succes. We are publishing an article about learning from failure in our Improve Group newsletter this week. It talks about how failures can also show us what is working and what to avoid. One of my mentors and a past employer of mine always said to embrace change – it is good. That message and being excited about what is coming goes a long way in our office.

  • Ssides

    Our bright spot is that our current donors continue to support us well despite the “economy”. Our donations are up. Where we need to switch things up is getting new donors and focusing on finding those newbies that resemble the people who already support us.

  • Sarah A

    We have recently found that more and more of our clients have been visiting our website for more information on services we provide instead of calling or coming in to get the information. We are making it a point to ask new clients how they heard about us and if their answer is through our website, we will ask what other information we could publish that might be helpful to them or others seeking help.

  • Jbosk

    Our bright spot was launching our blog which created a 50% increase in unique individuals coming to our website!

    Then the problem-focusers said that was fine but no one was leaving a comment.

    So we showed the problem-focusers that the next bright spot was the number of people ‘sharing’ our blog posts on their facebook pages and how that pushed our message out to thousands more people who may not have ever stumbled across our blog! Tah-dah!

  • Joy

    Our bright spot is that even though we have a chronic need for foster parents, the ones we have are amazing and really step up to the plate to take kids who need lots of extra love and care. I was sitting at my computer stressing when I read this post. I tend not to look at the successes, but move right on to the next “problem.” Thanks for relaying Dan’s insights.

  • http://www.worldaccord.org Denise

    Our bright spot shines always on the people we work with overseas and in Central America. We focus on their resilience, their hope, their efforts in making the world a better place, regardless of the poverty they face. This bright spot makes a huge difference in the way we work and tell their stories.

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  • Laurie

    Our bright spot is that we have lots of great stories to tell. I just have to focus on getting those stories from our staff. Great post, by the way. I really appreciate the point on failure. I need to print it out to post on my wall as a constant reminder. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/kansashealthorg KS Health Foundation

    Our bright spot is finding ways to tell stories about parts of our work that many of us thought wouldn’t interest anyone outside the walls of our building. But digging and stretching for interesting storytelling angles of that work is helping us to connect more with our grantees and with the Kansans we’re privileged to serve. Fantastic post, Kivi. Thanks! @kansashealthorg

  • Leann

    We’ve been pushing a string trying to set up partnerships with hospitals in Africa. By adjusting our expectations we now have an agreement to send a pediatric surgeon to a hospital in Madagascar. It’s a first step but it is so encouraging!

  • Dstahura

    Bright Spot: Rather than complaining about how legislators don’t know enough about our work, we’ve decided to send them customized updates that explain the feature/benefits for the people living in their district. We know they use the story and the numbers if they see the benefit for the people in their district.

  • http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog Kivi Leroux Miller

    Lots of great bright spots! Keep them coming. Will do book drawing on Friday.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Thompson/519236232 Brian Thompson

    A big bright spot for us (evkids.org) was our 30th Anniversary Gala on 10/10/10, highlighted by a 5-minute video produced by a former EVkid, Latoyia Edwards, now news anchor on New England Cable News. We have lots of other great stories to tell, via video and other channels, as we move forward. Thanks for the great post.

  • Grodenberger

    I’m so glad to see you say that pity and guilt aren’t good emotional models for encouraging giving. My gut told me that when I looked over our existing materials, and I’ve been rewriting and rethinking everything.

  • http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog Kivi Leroux Miller

    Congratulations Laurie! Your comment was randomly selected as the winner of a copy of Switch! I’m emailing you now.

  • http://www.rmahf.org Heather

    Bright Spot:

    We took a five page donation process and streamlined it to one page. Now we always ask ourselves how we can streamline registrations and processes.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Yoda61 Nick Bowen

    We are engaged in a change process and half of our employees volunteered for extra work to help guide the change. That’s a big bright spot!

  • Cestewar

    We have so many resources in our organization and so many talented people here. If our organization collectively focused on this we could accomplish much more than we currently are in terms of marketing our center.

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  • Carole

    Our bright spot is that we have a program that is changing lives in ways that makes my spine tingle. Rather than beating ourselves over the head with why replicating it has been so hard, we are celebrating its amazing, life-changing successes.

  • http://www.onlineedublog.com/ Online Education

    Absolutely the emotional mind does always stupid and non sense things.

  • Jeremy Shatan

    Our bright spot is that I decided to try a Facebook ad to front load fans for the page we created for our 2nd Annual Hope & Heroes Walk. At first, I had the ad going nationwide. This let us know that people across the country are interested in what we are doing and helping, even though we are very clear that we only raise money for Columbia University Medical Center in NYC. Based on this interest, we created a Virtual Walker participant type, for those that can’t be at the walk. We currently have 7 Virtual Walkers signed up, including one from Georgia and two from California!

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