Brand Engagement Through The “Martydom Effect”

For non-profits the “consumer” of the service is not the same person “purchasing” the service. So there is no immediate gratification like we get when purchasing a new pair of Nikes or an iPod. But does that mean the donor receives no benefits? There are definitely emotional benefits from giving. The desire to help others is inside of us all and it feels good to do so.

A different way to look at this is involvement. Today I think more people want to get involved to make a difference versus simply writing a check. In this instance the donor receive the benefit as an experience. There are obvious ways that this can happen like Habitat for Humanity builds. The “run for a cause” trend has also taken off in recent years through marathons, distance biking, and shorter runs or walks. People are attracted to athletic fundraising events for the experience – even the rewards that come from pain and suffering. Princeton University conducted a study that suggests people like to participate in fundraising activities that involve discomfort. Researcher Christopher Olivola attributed the results to a phenomenon he calls the “martyrdom effect.” “When you have to work hard and suffer for a cause, then you become more involved and more motivated to help,” he said.I can attest to this personally. I ran my fastest marathon when I ran for Cure International and raised enough money to pay for six club foot operations so these kids could run too. Olivola’s dissertation states, “Most theories of behavior consider pain and effort to be deterrents and assume that making a task more painful and effortful should decrease motivation … I show that willingness to contribute to a charitable or collective cause increases when the contribution process is expected to be painful and effortful rather than easy and enjoyable.” Not only did I train harder, but I contributed my own money and my sponsors contributed to this good cause.

Another way to get involved is by feeling like you are actually helping because you are. Another campaign that has influenced me is for Wireless Amber Alerts. On May 25, 2006, National Missing Children’s Day, The Advertising Council launched a national, multi-media PSA campaign designed to raise awareness of The Wireless Foundation’s Wireless AMBER Alerts program and to encourage all wireless subscribers to aid in the search for abducted children. I saw the ads featured in an advertising publication called Creativity and I immediately signed up. If a child is missing in your area you are sent a text message describing where he or she was last seen and provides descriptions of the abductor and his or her vehicle. Hundreds of people can provide extra eyes for law enforcement to help find missing children. In its first four years AMBER Alert helped save the lives of 502 children nationwide.

The Home Depot has been successful in donating money, time and effort through its associate led volunteer force to help Habitat for Humanity. Recently they’ve received PR coverage with their  “Repair Core” program that helps veterans with home repairs. Is there a cause (non-profit) your brand can team up with to increase engagement? Is there an event or effort that can also increase involvement by taking advantage of the martydom effect?