Recognition: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

  At Turnkey we use the word recognition a lot. But other people use other words like “appreciation,” “acknowledgment,” “thanks,” and such. These words really all mean the same thing. To quote the film”Avatar,” they mean, “I see you.” And, as corny and weird as that sounds, these words wrap around a human impulse that is powerful, quantifiable and which can be weaponized, for lack of a better word.

Often, the beloved, Otis Fulton—our behavioral specialist and my hubby—says, “Sometimes these techniques can seem a bit Machiavellian, but we are using it for good. And, we know that if we succeed, people are measurably happier.” Economist Daniel Pink’s research on motivation shows that the happiest, most satisfied among us are people who have found a sense of purpose, the sense that what they do serves something meaningful beyond their own self interest, to society at large. So providing the opportunity for people to become involved in something that transcends their lives is really an invitation to become more fulfilled through their connection to a purpose and to each other.

The idea that people would value a sense of connection to others so highly should come as no surprise to us. Humans have evolved to seek out connections. To put it simply—our ancestors who were most sensitive to the feedback of their group were the ones who survived. Try making it out on the African Savanna without a little help from your friends. In his recent book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” psychologist Matthew Lieberman said, “…our brains crave the positive evaluation of others almost to an embarrassing degree. It is easy to imagine (feeling rewarded by) positive feedback from the people who matter most to us, but would social feedback from complete strangers have the same effect? Surprisingly, yes.” So we are all born with an antenna that is fine-tuned to how others are responding to us—recognizing us. As it turns out, we don’t even have to know them for their recognition to be rewarding.

So social scientists know recognition is powerful. But how would one measure the power of recognition? There are a variety of ways to try, but often it is hard because other variables are not held constant. In the peer-to-peer world, you can apply and measure a recognition program, but those results could be impacted by, for example, a new event staff person, or the weather, or the email platform’s success in delivering communications, or any number of things. The different ways to measure can include year-over-year overall results, the behaviors of those responding to recognition versus those who don’t, or even the percent of people who want recognition in whatever form it is delivered.

But there is one way that we feel is the best at giving a true measure of the power of recognition. In this method we consider recognition as both a device to encourage fundraising, and to measure intrinsic attachment to an organization’s mission. Here’s how it works:


  • Apply recognition gift program to entire peer-to-peer audience in the form of email messaging offers of recognition for levels of fundraising achievement.

  • At an end point, offer recognition gift to entire gift-earning audience.

  • One year later, measure the performance of the individuals who earned recognition and wanted it, vs. those who earned recognition and didn’t.

When we did this, we found out that people who responded by accepting the recognition come back to fundraise again more often and at even higher levels. Cool huh? Find out more in Turnkey’s Benchmark Study on Peer to Peer Fundraiser Recognition.