New year, fresh start

You probably set some New Year’s resolutions. And you might even have broken some already.  (For me, it was to not swear at politics — I think the Times Square ball might still have been bouncing when that one went out the window.)

Why do we start the new year with resolutions?  It turns out not only are we biased to do it, but that the effect may help us attract new donors.

Researchers call it the “fresh start” effect.  They found that landmarks that signal the passage of time, whether calendar-based (e.g., beginning of new week, month, year) or personal (e.g., birthday, holiday) are significant. They are the starts of our mental accounting periods (financial and otherwise), so they are the times that money is most flexible.  Most significantly, we distance ourselves from the person we were before the landmark.  Bad things we used to do?  That was past-me; I’m now 2021-me or 50-year-old-me or post-Christmas me — whatever landmarks I find significant.

Let’s stipulate for the record this only works in our own minds.  It doesn’t really work to tell the judge that the person who rode the horse naked (you are naked in this scenario, although I doubt the horse is abundantly clothed) down the Las Vegas Strip was past-Steven; she’s still going to make present-Steven pay for those crimes.  But for the individual, there’s a bit more of a mental clean slate.

This has implications for your ask.  This may be the time of the year when people are most pliable in changing the way they give.  Certain asks—membership, recurring donations, planned giving—are going to work better when someone is looking at their year, month, week, or life with a blank slate.  You can even reference this in your asking, priming the donor to be more accepting of something, summoning up the new-year, new-Steven logic.

Just as importantly, you can use this logic to help you create the change you want in your organization.  You weren’t able to invest in acquisition in 2020 like you wanted to, missing out on the gravy-train-with-biscuit-wheels that was the COVID bump for many organizations?  It’s a new year and a new organization: maybe your bosses will be more amenable as they look to make changes with a newly pliable mindset.

So here’s hoping that 2021 is excellent for you.  It won’t truly start from me until I’m able to kick COVID, but when I hit that milestone, there are going to be some changes, believe you me…

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