If you’ve ever seen a dog track you know they are not running their butts off for the glory of victory. They are chasing a mechanical rabbit. In that race, nothing matters but the rabbit. Gotta get that rabbit.

In this metaphor you are the greyhound and your fundraising goal is the rabbit. The faster that rabbit shuttles around the track (in circles no less), the harder you have to run.

Ever wonder why people are leaving the fundraising profession in droves?

Ever wonder why it’s easy to pay lip service to relationship-building and yet treat your donors as ATM’s with legs?

Social science has the answer. When people are under pressure they are far more likely to make moral compromises.

The seminal study of this was conducted with Princeton divinity students. Not average Joes or Josephines, but divinity students. The students were told to prepare a sermon as part of a class assignment. On the path to the building where the sermon was to take place, an actor feigned a sudden severe illness, doubling over in apparent pain and coughing. Half the group were told they had plenty of time to get to the building. The other half were told they were running late and they needed to hurry.

When not being rushed, two-thirds of the divinity students stopped to help the stricken man. Only 10% of the ‘in a hurry’ group did so.

Divinity students.

In neuroscience there’s a phenomenon called perceptual narrowing. When something kicks you into fight or flight (like being told you’re going to be late for something important), you get tunnel vision. Much of your thinking brain shuts down. Neurologically speaking, your brain cannot distinguish between a psychological threat like being embarrassed for being late and a saber-toothed cat trying to catch you and eat you.

So back to fundraising. When your boss tut tuts you for missing a monthly fundraising target, it’s biologically difficult to access what may be more important considerations, like not spamming your donors.

So how can you overcome the greyhound effect? First by becoming aware of it. Become familiar with the physical sensations of going into greyhound mode. Recognize the early warning signs, the sweaty palms, or shortness of breath or squeezing sensation in your gut. Name it. “Oh crap I’m going into greyhound mode.” The more you do that, the more you can keep your thinking brain online, and the more you can make more thoughtful choices. Like not spamming your donors.

Of course there is one big advantage of being a fundraiser instead of being a greyhound. The greyhound never catches the rabbit.