Your work spans multiple continents and cultures. Could you share a global perspective on the challenges and opportunities nonprofits face in implementing behavioural science principles for social change? Are there universal strategies, or does each region require a tailored approach?

The beautiful thing is decision science (DS) seems to work across cultures in most choice situations. This is because it’s based on three common human foundations:

  1. Evolutionary learning Approaches that have been hardwired into our decision-making processes.
  2. Neuroscience How our brains respond to certain stimuli.
  3. Behavioural economics: Responses we make to certain cues.

Psychology is much more culturally framed. There may be differences in the way fundraising messages are framed, but the ideas of framing, messenger, salience, and so on, work. We’ve tested approaches to fundraising in New York, London and Lima. Same results!

In your extensive writing on the psychology of influence and decision science, how can nonprofit organisations apply these insights to enhance their fundraising and advocacy efforts? Can you provide examples of how understanding human behaviour has significantly impacted the missions of organisations you’ve worked with?

Great to see you’ve picked up that this approach works for fundraising and advocacy. We’ve got some great case studies we can share:

Foodbanks How Trussell Trust in the UK is using DS to raise more and to challenge prejudices about poverty and people who are poor.

Environment How Greenpeace Nordic are using DS to raise money for their campaigning work and encouraging citizens to think/vote greener.

Animals How Edinburgh Zoo went from $AU40K to $AU2.5 million in income from small regular donors using a DS-informed campaign with most of the income coming from people who didn’t like zoos but loved animals.

Many of your assignments have involved well established nonprofits. What advice do you have for these organisations in staying innovative and agile in a rapidly changing world while still honouring their traditions and values?

Innovation is good. But chasing the next ‘shiny’ object is really a diversion for many organisations. I’m looking at conference programs from five years ago and seeing the massive promise offered by crowd-funding and bitcoin and blockchain… and today? Decision science isn’t an innova-tion as such. It simply helps you shape your messages and propositions in a way that ensures they are more powerful.

Established charity brands are important and should protect their values and assets. I caution against changing elements such as a charity brand or logo and expecting it to make a difference.

Building and maintaining donor relationships is crucial in fundraising. What advice can you offer on stewarding long-term donor relationships?

A key piece of advice is to stop talking about them as donors. It implies the rela-tionship is transactional and purely about money. Think about them as supporters and offer them a range of ways to show their support including donating.

Bernard Ross is an expert in strategic thinking, organisational change and behavioural science. For over 30 years he’s worked with a wide range of not-for profits, including Greenpeace International, UNICEF and MSF. Bernard is a keynote presenter at FIA Conference 2024 and will deliver a masterclass and a session.