The Sawyer Effect

Named for the scene in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where Tom and friends paint Aunt Polly’s fence, Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, defines the Sawyer Effect as “Practices that either turn play into work or work into play.”

Tom’s brilliant inspiration is in projecting the task of whitewashing the fence to his friends as a fabulous privilege or as Pink describes it, “a source of intrinsic motivation”.

Sawyer even goes so far as to initially refuse his friend Ben’s request to “try a few strokes”. He relents only when Ben gives him his apple for the opportunity.

In university and nonprofit fundraising circles, there’s frequent discussion of how best to engage (secure and engross) donors. With a national nonprofit average for year over year donor retention of less than 50% it’s clear that making enduring connections with donors is a real challenge.

Social psychology research has repeatedly shown that external motivation may spark short-term action, but it rarely leads to long-term consistency and success.

Conversely, intrinsic motivation, while often more difficult to identify and tap, has repeatedly been proven to drive lasting commitments and behaviors.

Monthly givers and/or the most loyal volunteers are prototypical examples of people acting based on intrinsic motivation. They could opt to discontinue their participation at any time, but, most often, they freely choose to continue.

How to find and nurture those people?

That’s a big part of what MEG, Monthly Engaged Giving, is about.

Twain’s wisdom is alive and well.