What I learned from “The Why Axis”

In fundraising, we work with constantly changing people (co-workers, whyaxisstudents, donors) on a daily basis. We always hope that people will change, start to do something different, or do something more—especially when it comes to donors. What makes some of us more successful than others when pleasing people, and more importantly, getting them to act or change their behavior?

We have all pondered at one point why someone made a decision, or why someone cared more than you did. In The Why Axis (published in 2014), economists John List and Uri Gneezy discuss incentives that motivate people and why. The authors are part of a new movement that is having a big impact on our field of fundraising: behavioral economics.

The Why Axis summarizes various field experiments in education, fundraising, and competition through behavior economics. This is new territory—economics in the past has mostly been based on theory and these authors sought to prove something. They’ve been the recipients of major grants and done some the controversial work in motivating students and consumers.

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