After studying fundraising success for nearly two decades, Rob has found that great results rarely come from one stroke of brilliance. Rather, it usually comes from doing helpful (very do-able!) things consistently.
In this episode, Rob shares examples of fundraisers who have used habits to create fabulous momentum, as well as an approach he has learned from BJ Fogg’s fascinating book Tiny Habits.
And he uses examples to show you how to apply this technique in your own fundraising.
If you’d like to get in touch or share this episode with anyone else you think would benefit, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! I’m on Linked In, Rob Woods, and on twitter at @woods_rob.
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‘Extraordinary things are not achieved by doing one extraordinary act on the big day. They are achieved by a set of fairly ordinary things that you manage to get yourself to do day in, day out. I’ve found that those things combine to generate fundraising momentum and results.’
Transcript for Episode 99
Hello, this is Rob Woods and welcome to Episode number 99 of the Bright Spot Fundraising Podcast. This is the show for anyone who works in fundraising and who wants some ideas and maybe a little dose of inspiration to help you raise more money and really enjoy your job.
And in today’s episode, we’re going to be looking at the subject of habits. It’s one of my favorite subjects, because I’ve long noticed that thinking in terms of habits is a really good way of helping you grow fundraising income, and skill, and momentum.
But before I get into the episode, I just wanted to ask for your help. If you have enjoyed listening to this show over the last two and a half years, and it’s helped in your fundraising in any way, I would love to hear from you.
Maybe just ongoingly it’s helped with your confidence, and that’s helped you get certain things done. Or maybe there was a specific episode or a specific guest or technique that you heard us talk about. And you did that, and some kind of good thing worked out in your fundraising, then I would love to hear about those success stories. The reason is sometime soon I’m planning very special episode, where the whole episode is going to be focusing on listeners’ success stories. I will include a link in the show notes for this episode, 99.
If you follow that link, it’ll give you a little form where you can just tell me the gist of what you did, what you’re pleased about, and maybe which episode, or episodes, or themes from the show have helped you get that done. And then I’ll get back to you, and basically I’m looking forward to planning a special show which is all about celebrating listeners’ wins. Which in turn, I hope, will inspire yet more people to realize some good ideas of things they could do.
Let’s get started. I’m aiming to do two things in today’s episode. Firstly, I’m going to share with you why I think that thinking in terms of habits, and fundraising habits, is such a powerful thing to do as you approach your job.
And secondly, I’m going to zoom in quite deliberately on a fabulous book that has really helped me in the last year and a half. It’s called Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg. I really recommend it, and I’m going to share with you some ideas that I’ve taken from the book that have helped me, and that have helped some other fundraisers.
A lot of these ideas I’m going to share are from a workshop I delivered recently for fundraisers who are part of my Bright Spot Members Club. This is our training and inspiration site for the fundraising community. And people get access to my recorded films, but also each week I deliver either a workshop on my own, or a masterclass, or I have a special guest and we look at a particular fundraising topic each week. Recently I did one on this very subject of tiny habits, and how focusing on them can help you in your job.
The first thing I said in that session was the quote which is fairly well-known, apparently it’s from Aristotle. And it goes along the lines of “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Apparently, Aristotle said that thousands of years ago, and I think it’s a very interesting observation about achieving great things that you might be striving to achieve.
And the reason I find it interesting is, 20 or so years ago, I had the impression that extraordinary fundraising success was achieved by someone doing something extraordinary on the big day. They did an amazing pitch, or there’s something about that appeal was put together so utterly brilliantly. Or in terms of sport or something, they won the Cup Final because of these heroic things they did that day. I had always just presumed that was the main story for why these things happen.
What I’ve now come to believe, after more than two decades of studying success in fundraising, is extraordinary things are not achieved by doing one extraordinary act on the big day. They are achieved by a set of actually, fairly ordinary things that you manage to get yourself to do day in, day out. Or at least week in, week out. And those things compound, they build and they build, and that’s what gets you to the Cup Final or to the big pitch, and it’s what enables you to be at your best on those seemingly important moments. It’s that ongoing process that makes all the difference.
Now the interesting thing is, though those ordinary seeming things are doable, the truth is many of us struggle to do them, actually. Week in, week out. And that’s the crux of it. When I’ve studied very successful fundraisers, they’ve found a way, be it discipline or habit, to pay attention to those small things and get them done as they go about their working week.
To give you one example of this in-action, I remember when I talked to Tony Gaston for episode seven and eight of this podcast. He was working for a small, international AIDS charity and he recounted how in the year 2013, that charity was bringing in high-value income to the value of around 20,000 pounds. And he just plugged away doing certain habits, noticed what was working, and doing more and more of those things. And the next year income rose considerably, to 280,000. And then each year, subsequently, it grew and grew to the point where six years later in 2019, the income was 2 million in high-value income to that charity per-year.
And again, there were a few fancy stories Tony shared of particular things he did for particular donors. But my main impression of that interview was actually, it was driven by certain habits that he worked on and did his best to apply consistently week in, week out, during the six years he was at the charity. And from my memory one of them that stood out was, if and when possible, he would do his best to get an extra conversation with any of the charity supporters.
So that conversation, after conversation, after conversation would just build. It’s not always easy, and not every donor wants to talk to you. But he found that if that was his dominant focus, then over time relationship would grow, even if some of those conversations didn’t lead to any money. But relationship would grow. And in due course, the people who were able to give more generously would do so. And that led to these followup gifts that got larger and larger.
And another habit he talked about, I thought was really interesting, which was the habit of quite deliberately carving out time to pause and think. Either about a particular challenge or fundraising opportunity, but in particular about particular donors and particular donor relationships. You would just go to the park and sit on a bench for 15, 20 minutes, just thinking.
And whilst all of us have heard of that type of idea before, speaking for myself, I know how hard it can be, I’m so busy doing stuff, how hard it can be to actually create time to do thinking rather than doing. And Tony said he found that was so helpful in just really tuning in to the situation and then potentially getting either a creative idea, or just a very doable, sensible, straightforward idea coming out of those thinking sessions. That he kept doing it over and over again across the six years, and that really paid off.
Or another more recent example from this show was in episode 88. I don’t know if you heard that one with, Claire Gresani at ShelterBox. It’s really well worth the listen if you didn’t hear it. But she talked about how, following coming on our Major Gifts Mastery Program, she really liked the idea of focusing on as many conversations as possible, and also focusing her energy and her team’s energy on creating wow moments. Special moments which would make her supporters feel good.
And she just thought through the importance of that, and she came up with an idea that would make it their habit, their team’s habit, to do more of these things. And the particular technique was to look at the database and see who had given a donation to the charity one year previously, and then work out which of those anniversaries were coming up in any given week. And put into the schedule, we’re going to call up and give them a special thank you call on the one-year anniversary of that gift happening.
Explain why we were calling, what a wonderful thing you did a year ago, here’s an example of the kind of difference it’s made, that generous donation. And they make it their habit to just make those calls or send those cards. They just happen every single week, so you’re not so reliant on motivation levels.
And she’s also got some really interesting stories in that episode of how it led to those donors feeling special, feeling grateful, feeling connected to the difference they were making, and deciding to be even more generous and make further donations.
To finish off this little first bit of the show, I have long observed that developing productive, useful habits as a fundraiser and as a leader is a really smart way to go. But I’ve also found that doing that in practice is not always as easy as it might sound. And in the past, sometimes I’ve struggled to do it. And I had never yet found a system that works really well until I found this book year and a half ago called The Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg.
And there are some things about his process which are a bit different from what I had ever tried before. And I’ve been teaching it on, like I say, to other people who are in our club and on our courses, and they’ve found it helpful too. So I’m now going to share some key ideas that I’ve taken from that book.
A key thing from Mr. Fogg is he says, why is it that most people … If you’ve got a friend who says, “Right, I’m going to get fit. It’s January. I’m going to get fit. I’m going to do 20 press-ups every day.” Or, “I’m going to go for a run every morning at six o’clock. Or half-hour run every morning.” He’s not saying he’s going to run a marathon. He’s saying, “I’m going to run for half an hour every morning.”
It almost gets embarrassing to ask him whether he did or not, because we can predict that most humans, most of the time fail to follow through on these good intentions of stopping eating cake, and starting eating more vegetables. It fails, usually because when motivation is high, you need to do it. The first two meals or the first two mornings, you go for the run. Great.
But as soon as you get a cold, or you’ve got another stress in your life and you’re not able to, and you miss a day or two and you start guzzling chocolate again, what happens is your brain says, see? I told you, you couldn’t do it. I told you you’re not really an athlete. I told you’ve got a sweet tooth. I told you hate broccoli. You can’t do it.
And the act of having two or three days of not following through on a seemingly doable activity of 20 press-ups a day has a massive effect on the habit. Basically, now it’s broken, it’s not a habit. You might one day get another bit of willpower for another burst, but we couldn’t call it a habit. Habit in the sense of, it just happens almost automatically without much or any willpower.
So key idea from Fogg, it’s much easier to keep a good habit going, to do a thing that’s good for you, if you feel good, not guilty. Good, winning, not a loser. So if you want to make a good change in your life, health, productivity, fundraising key top line insight is find a way to make yourself feel successful in any, even small way. If you’re trying to nurture that habit and give it little, give this plants some roots.
He’s a psychologist by training, Mr. Fogg, and he says behavior equals MAP. In the sense of M for motivation, A for ability, and P for prompt. He says, all behavior happens, whatever you do today, it’ll happen, if there is some motivation to do it. At some level, you want to do it. Plus there is some ability, A for ability, plus interestingly, a prompt.
And he says, you could be well motivated to call your mother, and it’s very doable. You’re able to do it. But if there is no prompt, the chances of it actually happening are really quite slim. Our whole lives are affected by prompts; be they natural ones when our tummy rumbles, or these bleeping ones when you get a notification, or a new email pings in. All day long we take action when there’s some kind of prompt. And even if motivation and ability is there, if there isn’t a prompt that you respond to, actually often good things don’t happen.
As an example, in the book he talks about being in the gym. I would’ve struggled with this. Anyway, he was on the treadmill in the gym. It was a few days after a big earthquake had happened. And he got a text from, I think the American Red Cross asking him to donate, to help the survivors of that earthquake.
And what he says, while running on the treadmill, he sent them $20. And he says this showed the model works. Before I got the prompt, I cared and it’s not that hard. I have the money, and it’s not difficult to send the money. But before I got the prompt, I didn’t send them $20. When I got the prompt, that combined with my ability, it was fairly easy, they made it really easy to be done in three clicks. And it tapped into my motivation to care about those people. And the $20 got sent.
Motivation, plus ability, plus prompt leads to behavior.
So some of this was, before you study it carefully, will sound easy and obvious. Whenever your mate tells you how he picked up his running habit or whatever, it’ll sound just similar to what you’ll get in any old self-help book. But in my experience, Fogg’s process is a bit more extreme, and therefore I found it more effective than lots of other processes that I’ve read elsewhere.
One thing is, in terms of ability, the key to his process is, how could you make it even easier to start the habit? Or indeed, if it’s a habit you’re trying to stop, it’s an unhealthy habit, how could you make it harder?
Idea two, and this one again is really, I’d never really thought deeply about this. Prompt, ask yourself, how could I create a prompt to nudge me to do the thing I want to do?
Thirdly, motivation. I’m not going to spend loads of time on motivation, but they are the third part of the model. Fogg teaches you, you will keep the habit going if you can link good feelings to the behavior you want to keep going. And you do it deliberately, even if it feels like a fake, like you’re doing it on purpose. The act of proactively attaching a good event directly after the healthy behavior, that’s a way you help it stick. Because your brain thinks, oh, that felt good. I’ll do more of that tomorrow.
Hi, it’s Rob. And if you’re listening to this in mid-May, I wanted to jump in quickly to let you know about a special offer we’re running for our training and inspiration site, The Bright Spot Members Club, between Monday the 23rd and Thursday, the 26th of May, 2022.
To give you a quick sense of the impact that ongoing access to these resources can have, here’s what one fundraising manager shared about how the club has helped his team’s results.
Hi, my name’s Dan McNally and I’ve been a Bright Spots Members Club for over a year now. And what I absolutely love about the club is the practical ability to translate Rob’s amazing sessions out into real-life field fundraising results. When I was at the British Heart Foundation, we created a workshop based on Rob’s corporate fundraising bundles. And within six months, every single person who had gone on this workshop that we developed had managed to secure one of their dream 10 corporate organizations.
And if you’re listening to this in mid-May, do check out our special promotion whereby if you join the club between the Monday, the 23rd, and Thursday, the 26th of May, 2022, you will get 15% off your individual membership if you’re paying monthly, and that saving will apply for as long as you want to keep access.
To find out more about team discounts, do drop me a line through the bright spot fundraising website. If you’d like to find out more about how the club works, and to claim this special saving, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join.
This is the basic thing that Fogg got me to do when I read the book. There’s three steps, it’s the ABC model. There’s an anchor moment, there’s a tiny behavior, and then there’s a celebration. This is one I’ve been doing for, basically since I read the book. Rather than keep intending to drink more water, and especially at the start of the day to get my whole body, get it moving, he in the book encouraged me to follow his process.
So here’s what I wrote down. After I enter the kitchen when I come down in the morning, I will fill a glass of water. And then … So those are the first two bits, because want to drink the water. Just be before I come onto to the acceleration bit, note I didn’t say I will drink a glass of water. Because sometimes, oh, I can’t, I haven’t got the energy.
I know it sounds no big deal, but big pin of water, or fill a glass of water. Now, once it’s full, almost always I take a good old drink from it. But it’s, often when you’re designing these habits, do the very first bit of it. If you write the first bit of the behavior, you find yourself weirdly more likely to do it, because you’re not getting overwhelmed by the overall process.
Enter the kitchen, then I will fill a glass of water. And then, in terms of this feel good, I know it sounds ridiculous, but my process is I’m going to smile. There’s no one else in the kitchen, or even if they are, I do it. I smile and or I say, “Yes, I’m winning. My morning is off to a good start.”
And I’ve done it for the last year and year and a half, almost every morning I have followed that habit in a way that didn’t happen. Even in the past, when I was motivated to drink more water to be healthy, I wasn’t managing to do this simple step.
This might be a shift. Some people who’ve studied this with me, this is a shift they report back. If they decided to allow themselves to put a big smile on their face directly after the doing of the thing the first day, and the second day, and the third day. And they found it weirdly helpful in them actually looking forward to, and needing less willpower to do the thing the next day.
If you’re struggling and my one of smile and say, “Yay, you are winning, Rob.” If that sounds too odd to you, then there’s other options you could do. You could think, if you love music, a line you could sing to yourself or hum to yourself. Doesn’t have to be Rocky, It could just be your favorite song.
Is there like an Andy Murray fist pump you could do? Is there a word your mom used to say when you did a good thing that you could repeat, just works for you? Or is there a happy image you could have? Don’t make it too complicated, otherwise that’ll feel like hard work so you won’t do it. It’s got to be super easy to do when you do the behavior.
So if you’re really stuck, my question is, if your team wins the FA cup, what do you do? Or if you hear, you get the email so you’ve got the gift in, or you’ve got a new job offer. In that moment, what do you do with your face, your body, your hands, your gestures?
BJ Fogg says, I dare you. Even though normal people don’t do this, when you’re trying to build a habit, do that thing directly after doing the behavior you desire. So there it is. Here’s how it looks like. Again, after I enter the kitchen in the morning, I fill a small glass of water and then I smile and say, “Yay, I’m winning.”
The old me would’ve said, right, I’m going to go and walk, do 20 minutes walking each morning. He says, especially if you are, this has been hard in the past, make it ridiculously small in one of two ways. Number one is, just make the first step … He says, literally if tomorrow morning all you do is put your walking shoes on and don’t go anywhere, that is victory. The habit is being able to put on my walking shoes. Because that you can do every single day for the next five days whether you go for a walk, and then the habit starts to build.
Obviously most days, once the shoes are on, you’re going to go for a little walk. But he’s refined it down to either say the first step. Or you could just simply scale it back, say rather than 20 minutes, which I’d love to do on a good day, if I only do two minutes, that is victory.
A couple of the stories from the book. One of them is, he was really struggling with flossing his teeth every day. Because his teeth are very close together, and it’s was very painful. So he just went for months not doing it. And then when he got better at this stuff, because he is a psychologist, he said, I wonder what would happen if I made it weirdly simple, that most dentists would be horrified at.
He said, after I put down my toothbrush, I will floss one tooth. And then I will smile. Now if that sounds absurd, I know it does. Initially I read the book, I didn’t want to go for the one tooth approach, et cetera. Because it sounded like I was thinking, that hasn’t helped my mouth at all today. Which broadly, it hadn’t.
But Fogg is smart. He does what it takes to build the habit, because it’s the habit that we want overall. Of course, most days after you’ve flossed one tooth you keep going, and you end up doing your whole mouth. But if on another day, literally you’re tired, you need to go to bed, and you just do one tooth? Every day you can do one tooth. And crucially, the habit continues. That’s some of what’s weird but effective about this process, which I encourage you to at least try, even though it sounds odd.
Now obviously, it’s not just about drinking water. There’s lots of things you might want to develop as helpful habits in your life. And I’d just like to share a couple of other examples to show you what I mean.
One of the ones that’s been most useful to me is in terms of productivity. And I had long known that there’s a challenge in a working day. If all you do is get, there’s the stuff done that’s coming at you, you might get to the end of your to-do list, but you can feel still overwhelmed that you’re not actually proactively making progress strategically with the things or the projects that you want to do, or that would overall make things better.
So I know how hard that can be. I think Steven Covey talks about the power of proactively doing things which are important, but not yet urgent. Anyway, I’ve long known about this.
It’s just, in practice for quite a while I’ve often not got as many of those done as I would like. BJ Fogg’s book helped me to find a way of doing this more successfully. And the habit I’ve developed is, when I have finished writing my to-do list in the morning, I will choose one thing from that to-do list. Which really does feel like it’s important, but not necessarily urgent yet, something which is strategically important and should make a bigger difference to what I’m overall trying to achieve.
I write one of those on a single post-it note, and I stick it on my desk, next to my computer. And then I smile or I feel good about it. Now note, I haven’t written down four of them as, or three of them, the top three, like might be suggested in sometimes in some time management systems.
Many people would say what, just one? What difference is that going to make Rob? Well, what I’ve found is, on most days I do get that thing done because I’m not overwhelmed by it. And then sometimes I feel so good about that, I might find something else to do that is bold and proactive as well. And occasionally, I don’t even get it done at all. But importantly, in terms of this method, the act of finding it and writing it on the post-it note keeps the habit alive of me searching for the strategic thing, and intending to get around to it.
And maybe you’re thinking that that particular habit is inferior to the way you currently do it and the results you get, so that’s fine. I’m simply saying that for me, it did solve the problem of often fearing these big, scary-seeming things and keep on procrastinating them. It’s helped me break that habit, and I do feel more confident and proactive in getting more of those things done, most days.
Or another example, this one linked to the topic from last week’s episode, episode 98, where Ben Swart and I were talking about the power of real examples and stories to help you feel inspired to do your job. We talked about the habit that some fundraisers have taken up after our storytelling course, which is of getting themselves their own notebook just for capturing real examples and stories that inspire them.
And so in line with that tactic, one could create the habit, whenever I hear an example, case study, analogy, or metaphor or quote that in any way inspires me or connects me to the difference our charity is making, I will as soon as possible, take five minutes and write that down in my story-capturing notebook. And then I will feel good, or smile, or celebrate in some way so that I keep building that habit.
Or indeed, to build on another tactic that Ben was mentioning in episode 98, the tactic of, within team meetings, encouraging the opportunity for people to share stories or examples that they’ve heard in that given week.
You see the value of that, because it maximizes the chances that these things are going to be noticed and shared on so that everyone’s benefiting. But in practice, it’s hard to get that going. You could use a habit along the lines of, whenever there’s a team meeting, I will put a story-sharing slot on the agenda. And if I see anyone in advance of that meeting, I’ll just mention to them that it’s coming up, and ask them if they happen to have heard any story that they’d be willing to share.
And when I do those things, I’m going to smile and feel good because I know I’m proactively doing what I can to encourage and nurture a culture of story-sharing in our team.
Okay. So if I were to summarize what I’ve tried to do in this episode so far, I know it’s been quite long. But what I’ve tried to do is, first of all, share with you why I believe seeing fundraising ongoing success in terms of habits, as much as anything else, is a valuable mindset. And I gave a couple of examples of that.
Then I’ve gone as deep as I had time for in sharing some things that I think are different and useful about The Tiny Habits Method from BJ Fogg’s book. And now I guess, really, it’s over to you. If at any level this is interesting or intriguing to you and you think it’s worth a try, then my suggestion is, could you pause for five or 10 minutes and just draft out in a notebook what a couple of yours might be if you were to try them tomorrow? Or at least for the next three days. Don’t go for more than three at a time.
But I have found if I decided, especially zooming in on the morning when there are some clear prompts to the way your day is structured, that you can hang these helpful habits off what tomorrow morning could be, one, two, or three mini-habits that you could try.
And I really recommend that you do try and follow the recipe in terms of the ABC, the anchor or prompt, behavior, the tiny behavior, and then the celebration. So if you could work out when this happens, I will do this tiny thing. And I really do urge you to, sort of for this experiment, let go of the kind of go big or go home. Well, if I don’t do 20 press-ups, what difference will it make? See what happens if you try out Fogg’s method where you go much smaller, so it’s doable. So that above all else, the habit has a chance of surviving, even if a couple of days you don’t have time to do much.
Obviously you can exceed your target, your first objective of the equivalent of one tooth being flossed, every day you like, and that’s fine. But aim small is the key thing I’ve taken from Fogg.
So best of luck. Do let me know how you get on. A key thing I would recommend though, if at any level these ideas have been interesting to you, is that you do get yourself a copy of the book called Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. Just to be clear, I’m getting no commission whatsoever. I don’t know BJ Fogg, I’m just sharing these ideas because they’ve helped me and I feel they can help other fundraisers as well. But if you like it, reading the book can only help, I think.
And as always, I’ll put a full transcript of this episode on the podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. And also in those show notes for episode 99, I will put the link there for if you’ve been listening to the Fundraising Bright Spots show for a while, and in any way it’s helped with your fundraising, and you’d be willing to generously share that example of what you’ve done because you listened to one of these episodes. Then please do check out that link, and just get in touch. I would love to hear from you. Thank you for that.
And the other thing I wanted to say is, if you’ve been for a while interested in going deeper than we can do in these podcast episodes and join our training and inspiration club, The Bright Spot Members Club then now is a good opportunity. Because between the 23rd and the 26th of May, 2022, we’ve got a 15% discount available if you join in the next four days. So if that sounds interesting to you, go to our website, brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join, and all the details are there. About what’s in the club, but also the nature of that discount.
Or if you’re the leader of a team and you’d like for your team to get access to these kinds of workshops and recorded training films and so on, then do just get in touch with me via our website. And I’ll let you know about the nature of discounts for teams joining.
And that’s it. Thank you for listening. Best of luck with your fundraising, but also best of luck trying out the idea of going small, going tiny in the way you develop habits. So they can then blossom ,and become really powerful and productive to help you with your fundraising. That’s it, good luck, goodbye.