Are you in the behavior business?  Or does this task fall to your program staff?

There is a growing paradox in charitable organizations between how the program staff and fundraising are (or are not) rethinking their most intractable problems.  The former is realizing they’re in the behavior business.

Behavior can be described, predicted or understood.  Behavioral science does all three while most of the fundraising focus seems limited to describing and maybe, occasionally,  predicting.

Understanding the “why” behind the behavior is the next frontier and it’s already here, just not evenly distributed.  The corporate world is way ahead.  They’re building up in-house behavioral science expertise and elevating this role to the C-suite.  Bloomberg predicts the top jobs for the next decade will be behavioral scientists and data analysts.

Here’s a sampling of job postings in the last few days.

  • Bank of America: Behavioral Finance Analyst
  • Google/Bon Appetit: Director of Food Choice Architecture
  • Capita: Senior Manager, Behavioral Insight and Intelligence
  • Allstate: Expert Behavioral Scientist
  • Leidos: Behavioral Scientist
  • U.S. Bank: Behavioral Scientist
  • Rare:  Behavioral Scientist, Content Advertising
  • Accenture: Behavioral Data Science Manager
  • Capital One:  Head of Talent Strategy & Behavioral Science in People Analytics.

Here is a snippet of a job description from one of the postings above.  Aside from being a bit wordy/wonky, doesn’t it read like a role that could/should fit into your marketing/fundraising team?  Hell, it sounds like a description of DonorVoice.

  • Expert-level knowledge of the behavioral sciences, including psychology, behavioral economics, marketing, anthropology, and sociology, covering foundational as well as recent research;
  • Communicating concepts from the behavioral sciences in clear tangible ways, demonstrating their applicability and making acting on them accessible to a non-expert audience;
  • Analyzing a real-world problem to identify applicable concepts and insights from the behavioral sciences;
  • Designing and executing secondary research to synthesize primary literature for non-expert audience;
  • Designing and executing experimental and quasi-experimental research to estimate the causal impact of interventions on psychological and behavioral outcomes;
  • Collaborating in a partner-facing role as a topic expert, involving carefully listening to interpret and understand key questions, and communicating to not only to convey expertise but to advance project objectives;

Here’s the paradox.  This listing is from a nonprofit, Rare.  Rare is a consulting firm (setup as a nonprofit) that works with conservation groups (often charities) or communities (often in the developing world) to change behavior to improve the natural environment – e.g. helping promote more sustainable fishing or farming methods.

But wait, there’s more, he said in his best Ron Popeil voice (may he rest in peace).  This is a United Nations chart in a 61 page report summarizing how behavioral science is being applied to understand and change behavior on big, intractable issues ranging from climate to gender equality to overfishing to poverty. (click to enlarge)

The report notes UN entities are at “very different stages in their journey toward mainstreaming behavioral science.”  Implicit is they’re all on the journey and ‘mainstreaming’ is a shared goal.

It further notes “many UN Entities work with and/or rely on expertise from external partners, particularly from the private sector…”   We’re ok with that (says the behavioral science agency) as both the buy/build route are viable and it’s often advisable to rent before committing to building.

But all this perhaps puts the cart before the horse.  Why are they so focused on mainstreaming behavioral science?  To quote the report:

  • In many areas, successful outcomes in the UN’s work depend on changes in human behavior
  • The UN cannot proceed with business as usual if it desires to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals…of peace and security, human rights, development and rule of law
  • For the organization to maintain the role of trusted global leader in the 21st century and to carry out its functions effectively it needs to look toward innovative ways of working
  • Behavioral science can improve outcomes through understanding of:
    • the barriers that prevent people from engaging
    • the enablers that assist people in establishing and achieving their goals

In a nutshell:  the program side of your charity needs behavioral science to change behavior, function effectively and remain a trusted leader.

That seems pretty appealing as a fundraiser/marketer too,  but maybe we’re biased.