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A newsletter from Biodiversity Project Winter 2012


The Art and Science of Changing Donor Behaviors

As communicators and optimists, we believe that compelling, strategically compiled words can change the world. That is why the core of Biodiversity Project’s mission is to build the communications capacity of other nonprofits and coalitions. Over the past 16 years, Biodiversity Project has developed a philosophy on social change and a process for incorporating values into behavior change campaigns. We use these kinds of campaigns to inspire people to adopt new habits, like recycling, conserving water or donating money. Our philosophy and process are based on research, experience and creativity. It’s a little bit science and a little bit art.

remember to turn it off every time after that. Instead, change is a process that involves five stages:

“I’m not yet thinking about a  Precontemplation: particular behavior.”

“I’m thinking about this new  Contemplation: behavior and weighing how it will work for me.”

“I’ve made the decision to act and I’m  Preparation: deciding how to do it.” “I’m doing it for the first time, or first few  Action: times.”

“I’ve made this a continuing habit in  Maintenance: my life.”

The science part of our process stems from the fantastic research of psychologists and social scientists who’ve developed models for change. While they often make for dense reading, these change models can shine some very useful light on the difficulty we adults commonly experience in changing our behaviors. One change model, called the “Transtheoretical Model of Change,” was developed by James O. Prochaska, a psychologist at the University of Rhode Island, and a number of colleagues. Prochaska’s model of change is well known and respected in public health and other disciplines concerned with changing human behaviors. The model describes the process of behavioral change. It answers questions like: • Why are some people more likely than others to succeed in dropping bad habits or picking up positive new ones (like conserving water or becoming a member of an organization)? • Why do some programs have high success rates in helping individuals make lasting changes in their lives while others rarely work? According to this change model, successful change isn’t a single event; people don’t decide out of the blue to turn off the tap when they are brushing their teeth and successfully

When we set about to People don’t decide out of the blue recruit new donors or to turn off the tap when they are to ask current donors to deepen their giving— brushing their teeth and successfully i.e. make a behavior remember to turn it off every time change—we can’t jump after that. Instead, change is a right in and ask for process that involves stages. money the first time we meet. If the potential donor is in the precontemplation stage, for example, they haven’t yet given any thought to our request. We probably aren’t even on their personal radar screen. Continued on page 4


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Creative Campaigns: Donations as Behavior Changes









ast fall, Biodiversity Project worked with a coalition of land trusts to put the theory explained in our cover story into action. The theory states that people N IC N exist in different phases along a behavior change O AT IONS C spectrum. Therefore, in order to inspire them to make a behavior change, like donating to an organization, we must reach out to them with tools and language that acknowledge their location along the spectrum and help move them to action. To create appropriate messages for the land trust organizations to incorporate into their materials, websites





and annual appeals, we worked through a process to develop a communications strategy. The goal of a communications strategy is to motivate a target audience to take some action or change their behavior. Behavior change campaigns are not about simply educating an audience, although education is usually a component of the campaign. In reality, educating people about an environmental issue seldom leads to behavior changes. In order for people to make real, lasting behavior changes, we must appeal to their values and beliefs and remove the barriers that might prevent them from making a change or supporting an issue. A communications strategy is a roadmap that outlines the specific goal of a campaign, what behaviors must be changed to reach that goal, who needs to IMPACTS make those changes (the audience), and how to inspire that change (what activities and tools to use to reach the audience). A complete communications strategy shows communicators how to reach goals. Biodiversity Project’s communications OBJECTIVES strategy template leads communicators through the rigorous process of determining a campaign’s impacts, objectives, audiences, audience barriers, messages and pathways. This is the process we used with the coalition of land trusts last fall. At the end of the process we had produced three AUD IE NCES messages that could be used to appeal to three different audiences. While the results of how the appeals using the new messages are still trickling in from the coalition members, preliminary feedback BARRIERS shows that some groups have had a slight uptick in fundraising since using these messages. By combining academic theory with years of communications experience, Biodiversity Project has developed a process for behavior change success. For more information on how we can work with your group, contact us at

Biodiversity Project Connections


Responding to a Hostile Audience

n our era of hyped-up rhetoric, partisan speeches and anonymous internet comments, many environmental communicators feel like they are consistently forced to defend themselves from bitter, aggressive or just plain mean attacks. It can be especially difficult to defend yourself, your organization or a stance in front of a live crowd. Dr. Kim Campbell, a professor and dean at the University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce, recently presented some new research on this very topic at the International Professional Communications Conference last October. Biodiversity Project attended and presented at this conference as well. Based on our understanding of Dr. Campbell’s presentation, angry questions are actually claims in disguise. The concerned—and often hostile-sounding— citizens are making their own arguments and challenge the speakers to refute their claim, or at least respond to it. Unfortunately, hostile claims are often flat-out wrong or at least unwanted by the speakers. Instead of arguing back or dismissing the questioner outright, there are several types of logical answers that could diffuse hostile situations and keep a productive conversation going. As a case study, assume we are at a town hall meeting about the use of taxpayer dollars to restore a local prairie. To respond to a hostile question from a person who clearly believes that taxes should not go toward such a project, the speaker could: 1. Refute existence of the claim, if the claim is truly incorrect. “Actually, no tax dollars were used for this restoration project. All funding came from private donations.” 2. Establish agency over the claim by identifying the real source of the problem, if you aren’t. “The restoration project was managed by the Mayor’s office and all budgetary decisions came from them, not us.”


3. Point out correct timing to show the claim is no

longer relevant. “The project funding was allocated back in 2010. No new tax dollars went to the project.” 4. Establish desirability of the claim by showing that the object of their derision is actually a good thing. “By restoring this natural prairie we will reduce the amount of tax dollars spent annually to clean up floods from storm sewer overflows during the heavy spring rains.” When Dr. Campbell tested these potential answer tactics over the course of two different studies, audience members fairly consistently found the timing response to be the most effective way to diffuse hostile situations. By pointing out the timing of an issue, audience members feel that you have truly acknowledged their concern and that you might even see it as a problem like they do. They also see that some remedy to the problem was already implemented. In our case study above, the timing of the restoration money allocation makes the questioners claim a moot point. Dealing with difficult questions and hostile audiences take practice It can be especially difficult and patience. These tips can to defend yourself, your help take the bite out of pointed organization or a stance in questions by acknowledging front of a live crowd. the problem and diffusing the attackers’ point.

Biodiversity Project Connections


What’s New at Biodiversity Project?

We are happy to announce that the Walton Family Foundation has very generously awarded the Mississippi River Network a continuation grant to fund the Network’s efforts for the first half of 2012. The Mississippi River Network is a coalition of 38 organizations dedicated to protecting the land, water and people of the Mississippi River basin. The Network and their public education campaign are managed by Biodiversity Project staff. The McKnight Foundation also generously supports the work of the Mississippi River Network through a The water may be freezing over, but the Mississippi multi-year grant. River Network’s efforts to protect the Mississippi The Mississippi River River are beginning to heat up for 2012.

Continued from page 1

Biodiversity Project staff recently presented at several conferences and meetings around the country, including Downstream Neighbor, a rivers and watersheds conference; the Stewardship Network conference, a meeting of organizations working to protect Michigan’s natural lands and waters; and the Environmental Capacity Building Network meeting. We’ve enjoyed participating in these conferences and meeting such amazing groups of dedicated colleagues!

Our job then is to move our prospective donor from the precontemplation phase to the action phase using communications tools that raise awareness, arouse emotions, build relationships, prompt with reminders and directly ask them to make a change. Once people have taken the first action, we use tools to show donors that their gift was received, it was put to work as intended and the project is having the desired effect.

ture to what otherwise might feel like random activities. They can help us understand our audiences and make strategic plans for moving people through the spectrum to change.

Models like this one help bring meaning and struc-

her blog:

Biodiversity Project

Effect, Inc. for letting us share excerpts of her article “Turning Prospects into Donors: How Change Theory can Show the Way.” Cause & Effect Inc. helps nonprofits with strategic planning, board development and other services. Read more from Gayle on

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Jennifer Browning Executive Director Becky Bell Communications Manager



Protect Your Local Endangered Species


Chair: Gary Wilson Grimard Wilson Consulting, Inc. Oak Park, IL

Hine’s Emerald Dragonf ly

Biodiversity Project Connections is published by Biodiversity Project. Inquiries should be sent to project@


4507 N. Ravenswood, Suite 106 Chicago, IL 60640 773-496-4020


Communications to INSPIRE Environmental ACTION

We’d like to thank Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE, President of Cause &




Network first hired Biodiversity Project to manage the first ever public opinion research done on the entire Mississippi River region in 2007. This research was used to develop a communications campaign for the ten Mississippi River states. The 1 Mississippi campaign represents Biodiversity Project’s commitment to helping coalitions achieve common environmental goals.




Laura Brown Nancy Paraskevopoulos Office Manager 1 Mississippi Campaign Manager Rebecca Dill Amy Sauer Programs Manager Mississippi River Program Manager

Vice Chair: Sara Race Commonwealth Edison Evanston, IL Kari Lydersen Freelance Journalist and Author Chicago, IL Rey Phillips Santos City of Chicago, Department of Law Chicago, IL John Sentell Lake Forest Open Lands Association Lake County, IL

Biodiversity Project February Newsletter  
Biodiversity Project February Newsletter  

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