73: Mobilize Your Mission: 3 About Engagement, Retention, & Building Community with Mariam Nusrat

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“Games are a universal language … when you’re having fun, you’re able to engage with content more and that’s what makes it interactive.”

– Mariam Nusrat
Episode #73


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

Feel like getting outside your box? Then spend some time with Mariam Nusrat, my guest on this episode of What the Fundraising! A lightbulb realization during her 12-year frontlines career working on educational policy and behavioral change in developing countries for the World Bank has transformed her into a video games visionary. As Founder and CEO of GRID (Gaming Revolution for International Development), she has unleashed a not-for-profit platform that is democratizing mobile games, advocating for a better world, and offering players of all ages, cultures, and geographies a ton of fun along the way! And fun = retention!

But there’s more … Mariam has more recently launched Breshna.io, a startup that empowers global users to create, share and monetize their own purposeful Web3 video games, with no code and at lightning speed. She is sharing thoughts on how nonprofits can incorporate interactivity and other tech tools to enliven fundraising and deepen connections with funders, volunteers, and donor recipients alike.

As Mary Poppins famously said: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Video gaming is Mariam Nusrat’s engaging and playful strategy for driving a new, more equitable frontier built on interactive community, collaboration, and education, and there is so much that nonprofits can learn from her.


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Mariam Nusrat


  • More about B.J. Fogg’s Behavioral Model (and a link for his book, “Tiny Habits.”
  • What’s more powerful than a stellar fundraising strategy? Integrated software that helps you manage with ease. Visit NationBuilder, our sponsor for this episode of What the Fundraising, to learn about their ready-to-go donation pages, express payment options, and other tools to support you on every step of your nonprofit’s journey! 
  • If you’re looking to lift your nonprofit to that next level, my Power Partners Formula offers a step-by-step plan to get you there, including how to identify the right partners and design the right campaign. This free masterclass offers a great starting point!

Brought To
you By:




More about B.J. Fogg’s Behavioral Model (and a link for his book, “Tiny Habits.”

What’s more powerful than a stellar fundraising strategy? Integrated software that helps you manage with ease. Visit NationBuilder, our sponsor for this episode of What the Fundraising, to learn about their ready-to-go donation pages, express payment options, and other tools to support you on every step of your nonprofit’s journey! 

If you’re looking to lift your nonprofit to that next level, my Power Partners Formula offers a step-by-step plan to get you there, including how to identify the right partners and design the right campaign. This free masterclass offers a great starting point!

Get to know Mariam:

Mariam is an entrepreneur operating at the intersection of no-code, gaming, purposeful content creation & blockchain. As Founder & CEO of GRID (Gaming Revolution for International Development), she is reimagining the way video games are created and used. Mariam is also building Breshna.io, a platform that empowers users to create, share and monetize their own purposeful Web3 video games, with no code and at lightning speed. Think TikTok for video games. 


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episode transcript

Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone. I am so thrilled to be here today with Mariam Nusrat. Mariam, welcome to What The Fundraising. 

Mariam Nusrat: Thank you so much, Mallory. I’m so excited to be here and I’m looking forward to this conversation. 

Mallory Erickson: Me too. Okay. Let’s start with your background and what brings you to your current work because there is so much in here for nonprofits and for the nonprofit sector to dig in. 

Mariam Nusrat: Yeah. Mallory, I’ve had an exciting couple of decades. So basically I think I started my professional career at The World Bank. So working in education policy for 12 years across 22 different countries, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Middle East.

And The World Bank is one of the largest international donor organizations, so for the longest time when you think about fundraising, I was very much wearing that donor hat of okay. And it’s client countries and everything, but it was more on the giving side of funding. So working within international development one of the things I realized, again and again, was that the way we do behavior change or education. So if we wanna raise awareness on help or we wanna raise awareness around education or something, it’s often very unfortunately boring. And I feel like this idea that if you’re targeting people living under the poverty line, somehow entertainment is not important. So it’s usually like here’s a brochure. Here’s a PowerPoint presentation. Here’s a workshop. And as someone who grew up playing SIM city where I was learning about urban planning, without even knowing I was learning about urban planning. I started thinking about how we could leverage video games as part of international development projects.

So eight years ago, I started my own not-for-profit. And the big idea was to create low-cost mobile games for positive behavior change. So gaming revolution for inspiring development grid was a not-for-profit where we started making games like games on reproductive health, climate action, financial literacy, and COVID-19 awareness. And these were games built for $10 smartphones compatible for global context, local languages, context vigilant, and all of that. So I spent around eight years thinking about how do you incentivize behavior change with video games and how do you leverage the power of video games.

So this is now me going from donor to not-for-profit. And then here’s the last part of it is last year, I then flipped hats again and we added a layer to grid. So we established a C Corp, a for-profit C Corp, which was a tech startup, which is Gaming Revolution for International Development GRID. And the big idea over there is that we built a platform, Breshna.io, which empowers everyone to create their own purposeful video games. So the best way to think about it is if TikTok and Canva had a baby for video game, that’s what Breshna is. Where the big idea is that anyone without any coding or design skills can go on Breshna and create these hyper-casual video games like a super Mario or a Tetris, or like a Wordle or a tile matching game but for social impact or education or marketing and training. And Breshna actually means lightning in the Pashto language, which is my mother tongue. So I’m originally from Pakistan and that’s where the whole idea is video games at lightning speed. 

So now in this role, I’m actually wearing a founder hat and we have been raising venture capital over the past year. We’ve actually raised around 2.4 million in our seed round. We have investors, 11 Drive, Blockchain Founders Fund, Bill Ackman, and Paris Hilton. So quite a few, very cool strategic investors in that cap table. Yeah, so fundraising has been a very interesting journey, donor, not-for-profit, tech founder, the whole gambit. It’s been interesting. 

Mallory Erickson: I love it because I feel like it’s gonna allow us to think about gamification in a few different ways. Maybe even we start a step back which is when I think about games, I think about the consistent repeat use of something. What is it about games like in the infrastructure of a game that creates that experience for the user?

Mariam Nusrat: Yeah. So Mallory, I actually love to think about the three I’s of a game, which is it’s inspiring, it’s interactive, and it’s iterating. And that iterating piece is that repeated piece that you were talking about because video games have this ability to transcend the virtual boundaries in which we play them and create these connections that we have, be it something that’s a very deep immersive play Zelda or World of Warcraft, where you’re spending seven hours playing video games.

But it’s also these hyper-casual games, like the mobile genre of games. So actually, an interesting fact is mobile games are the fastest growing genre of games. And the average gamer here’s the kicker, is a 36-year-old woman. So unlike what we might think is the stereotype of a gamer, which is a 22-year-old in a basement playing Call of Duty for seven hours. It’s actually the other way around. It’s someone playing Candy Crush on the Metro, right? 

So games are this universal language and even those games are iterative right? So you will keep going back to Candy Crush to keep continue to build on and the reason for that is a couple fold. Obviously, there are games that have a storyline, so they create this level of attachment and that’s what in documentaries or movies as well. But then there’s also this idea of games being a crystal ball. 

So think about it that in a video game, you are able to see the long-term impact of your actions that you take today, right? So it’s a very kind of, if you imagine a decision tree, video games are probably one of the only mediums that are able to depict you, walk you through that decision tree, and show you how the decisions that you’re making today, taking today, impact your future and that kind of decision making saying, hey, I’m gonna go back, cuz I’ve put this effort into it. I’m gonna go back and build towards that tomorrow that I’m building towards really is a powerful narrative. 

And I think the last piece is they’re fun. And you don’t wanna forget that, right? Video games are a universal language. It’s not just digital games. It’s been games forever. And when you’re having fun, you’re able to engage with content more and that’s what makes it interactive. So I think there’s that, tell me and I may forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I understand. Video games involve you in the process of learning journeys, whatever it is that you’re doing. And that’s what makes them really impactful. I would say that there’s the inspirational aspect, the story, the role models, there’s the interactivity where you immerse yourself in them. But then there’s also the iteration where you keep coming back, because like you said, retention rates are very high with video games. 

Mallory Erickson: Okay. Can we talk about the interactivity? This might seem like a very basic question coming from the gaming world, but I think it might be helpful to actually get really specific here. What are the things, the elements of games that make it feel interactive? 

Mariam Nusrat: Mallory, believe it or not actually, this is a very deep question and it’s very well debated. And this is actually there are two terms that get used and thrown around a lot in serious gaming, which are gamification and gaming. So actually, if you think about it if you just have an online course and you put a score to it, or you put an avatar to it. That is a gamified course where you’ve put elements of video games to something that’s not a video game and that is gamification, but that’s not a video game.

So you can have gamification that makes it fun and interactive, but whether it goes all the way or not is something that’s deeply debatable, just because you’ve made a video game does not mean it’s gonna be fun and interactive. So I actually think if you look at the a la carte menu of everything that a video game offers the storyline, the scoring, the penalties, the time challenges, this ability to look into the future. There are quite a few things that a video game offers and not every game has all of those elements, but I think the more that you can put into it, the closer you get to your goal. 

And I usually use because I come from this not-for-profit world, I actually use this mapping framework, almost like a theory of change where we take our goals and then work backwards and say, okay if we’re trying to build empathy, a storyline would be perfect for that. But if we are trying to build awareness or just something that people need to remember, then bonus stages are a really cool way of doing that, or levels would be really cool. So you almost have to pick up your results, pick up the a la carte menu of everything that video games offer, and then map them and say ok, these are the things I’m gonna leverage to make my interactive fun game.

Mallory Erickson: Ooh, can you tell me why you made that distinction around advocacy? Tell me why advocacy inspired you to think about a leveling system inside a gamified environment. 

Mariam Nusrat: Yeah. So I think one of the basic things at least to me with advocacy is awareness. So there are facts, like why should you care about the cost and everything. So when I think about facts, there’s usually a lot of data, right? That you just get bombarded with, it’s here’s a brochure or here’s 10 facts and everything. So one of the things we do is use these mini hyper casual games. So we created a climate bingo, it was simply like, okay here’s a number, here’s the fact about it and everything. And then you just do that, or tile matching where, okay, you know what, this is the data, the statistic point. It’s okay, there are 1 billion video gamers around the world and then you match two tiles, but as you are going through the process of playing the video games you get exposed to the idea of awareness. 

So I link that with that element, but then one thing that’s really cool with advocacy is that thing, that crystal ball effect I was talking about. So one thing again and again, in video games, a lot of times there is this thing called the present bias fatigue, where it’s like, why should I change my behavior today? I’m just one person. I will not be able to impact the world or change the world. I just don’t wanna do that. It’s the instant bias. And video games can help you visualize how micro turns into macro so you’re actually able to see. Again, like in SIM city, you are one person building one little house but then everyone else around you is also building. And then all of a sudden you have a city and you’re able to see the impact of urban planning. So that’s this idea of games being cool for advocacy.

Mallory Erickson: Ooh. Okay. Interesting. To me actually, like all three of those I’s are particularly important in a deep relationship with a donor. When I think about strong donor engagement, actually all three of those things are critical. That they’re inspired around the work of the organization, that they feel personally involved in the work, and that they’re willing to stick with the organization through iterations.

Because if we do that one-time fundraising, do this thing it’s gonna fix the whole thing. They’re gone and it wasn’t true and it doesn’t really help anyone. So we need these long-term supporters to be down for the ride with us to have that incentive to keep coming back, the way that a game encourages that you’ve already invested this, but there’s a next level or there’s the next thing. 

So talk to me a little bit about how you see those elements playing out in ways that feel also authentic to the donor. Because I think that’s probably folks, I don’t wanna say hurdle, but I think when we’re trying to think about okay, we don’t wanna create fake urgency, but creating a time box moment in a gamified way is not fake urgency. It’s real in a fun way. So just tell me, I said a lot of things. Tell me what you think about all that.

Mariam Nusrat: No, I love that Mallory and if we think about fundraising proposals, it’s just levels and levels of information that we put into it. And often one of the things we’re trying really hard to do is tell a story, right? Tell a story of why should the donor care, why should the donor be a part of this, and then how will that engagement continue over the long term. So we’ve often talked about this idea and this happens in the private sector world, your pitch. It’s the same thing that you go to an investor and you try to pitch for your startup. That investor is hearing a hundred other pitches. Why do they care about what you’re doing? How are you gonna change the world in a way that’s unique from every other pitch that they’re hearing?

And I think video games almost provide this simulation of what the world can look if you and the donor work together and what does that world look like? So exactly like you were saying, you almost simulate that within this moment in time and then give them that look into the future and then give them credibility to continue. Because again, this game doesn’t have to be a one-stop shot. Whether you want a video game as part of your quarterly update, or whether it’s part of your reporting or monitoring. It could be something where you build on it and you say, hey, you know what donor, this is what we achieved.

Cause there is a checklist, right? I mean it’s very easy and this is again the gamification, you don’t have to have a full video game. But if you gamify the communication with the donor where you have a checklist, where you have the wins and the losses, where you have the leader board. Those are things that you can pick up from video games where you make it into levels. There are phases of projects, can you make them into levels? And that level unlocks when you’ve reached all of these milestones. Those are the things about gamification where you pick up elements from a video game because they excite you and they excite you about the progress and they make you a part of that progress in that storyline.

So I would almost say even if it’s not a video game that you’ve created, there are so many aspects of video games, the gamification of that fundraising process that would be really interesting. 

Mallory Erickson: And that’s where I actually wanna focus because I’m sitting here being like, oh my gosh, I should have played Candy Crush or something before this. I think the last video game I played was Snood or something, I’m in the wrong market. But even though I am a 36-year-old woman, which is very funny. 

But what’s interesting to me about what you just said is okay, so I think about those things, the gamification that gets integrated into projects and the relationship between that and kind of peer-to-peer recruitment. And I don’t necessarily even mean peer-to-peer fundraising, but I was thinking about Candy Crush. You play with a person, and so it’s a way for you to interact with the people in your life in a fun way.

And some of gaming is you’re in a mystery universe, interacting with people you don’t know. Some of it’s ways for you to connect with people in your life. How do games and the gamification of things impact relationships with each other? And how might that play out in a nonprofit setting in terms of volunteer recruitment or fundraising or all those pieces?

Mariam Nusrat: So I think there’s three things that come to mind, right? First, video games can be collaborated or competitive. You see both types and gamification elements can be both types, right? So if you wanna look at the competitive elements, you can have leaderboards. So if you’re trying to recruit volunteers, you can have reward systems and leaderboards, where you’re, okay, there’s a public leaderboard. This person is doing really well, this person mobilized all of these other people, and that’s where we’re going with it. 

Then there’s the collaborative piece of things which is more, hey, we’re all going towards a shared goal. And it’s a shared victory when it happens. So that’s like that idea of there’s a lot of games like Minecraft or Roadblocks that allow you to build walls together. And if you pick up all of those learnings and you apply to just projects, there’s this idea where you can be like, here is a shared goal that’s been given to a group of people. Now I think a lot of times when you see gamification it ends there, we’ve checked, we’ve done a leaderboard check. We’ve given green check marks to everything you’ve done, crosses to everything you haven’t done, and we’ve gamified everything. 

I really think that’s the tip of the iceberg where yes, you have started to gamify things, but I don’t think that’s fully leveraging what video games can offer which is that ability to inspire. And that’s going back to that storyline and everything because I think when you’re talking about peer-to-peer relationships, role models, and storylines are what get people going. And again, even in video games, sometimes it’s just a video that plays, you just sit back. I don’t do the Triple A games, but I watch my husband, he will watch storylines within his video games for 30 minutes, for 45 minutes at end, where he just leans back and just watch the storyline cuz he is so interested in what his actions will do to the storylines, the characters. 

So the fact that we have all of these projects that are impacting real lives, I think there’s a very important connection that needs to be made between the cause, the storyline, and then the impact that that individual person’s action will have on that. And that’s what video games do, they empower the one person to change the whole world and I think that’s that inspiring moment that makes you go back and feel really empowered. 

Mallory Erickson: Wow. Okay. So when you are in a game and you’re watching a storyboard, what’s the timeframe that’s being reflected there? Are they showing that this is 20 years into the future where you’ve changed the whole world? Is this tomorrow? How is that depicted typically? 

Mariam Nusrat: Yeah, it’s very interesting. So we’ve actually done a couple of time travel games, actually, we’re working on this game which depicts the impact of COVID-19 on minority communities of color.

Within the US, where there was a disproportionate impact that COVID had in certain communities because of underlying conditions, which were that there was structural racism. There were a lot of things that put them at a disadvantage right at the get-go. So it’s very interesting. What we’ve done is it’s a time travel where a detective is in the future and he comes back to 2020, and he’s gathering all this evidence of why is it that there are certain neighborhoods that just had very different COVID-19 outcomes than these other neighborhoods. It’s a very investigative activity, like the whole challenge is to uncover these clues and understand the storyline. 

So I would say there are, if you’re creating a game on climate resilience, you probably do have to go 20 years in the future and then time travel back and show that back and forth to the donor of saying, hey, you’re putting in money today, but this is the future we’re all building to words. And then this is what it could look like. I think there is that aspect of time travel that is very interesting, But then I also think sometimes, it’s right there. It’s we could change this today. If you are doing a volunteer drive and it’s very immediate goal. You don’t even have to do any zoom out, or zoom in. You can do something that’s very immediate in the future. 

Mallory Erickson: Interesting. Okay. So let’s say there’s nonprofit, that’s okay, holy moly. We need to gamify things.  I can imagine as being inside the nonprofit sector, sometimes it’s a lot to bite off so many different new things at once. So I was thinking when you were saying that piece around stopping at leaderboards, could they in their marketing language, their newsletter language, in the videos that they’re putting out of them speaking, could they do these other pieces, the inspired storytelling that helps depict the future? Can these elements of what makes something gamified be delivered effectively, even if it’s not in a game?

Mariam Nusrat: Absolutely. You can do leaderboards, you can do collaborative competitions, you can do stick and carrot, right? That’s the thing with games, it’s always there are rewards and penalties. And you can try that too. They could be a time challenge where if you do this within a week, you get a hundred points but if you don’t then you lose 50 points. It’s that idea of urgency and time that you can create.

But then I would almost say again, one of the things that scares people in the not-for-profit world, trying to make a game is that they imagine the Call of Duty, they imagine, oh my God, how am I gonna make a Roblox? You don’t have to do that. You can go on Cahoot and make a quiz. You can go on Brush Now and make a small video game.

Even if you’re doing social media marketing, and you just wanna see if people know what your acronym means or something like, I just wanna say, Hey, my acronym is GRID, what do you think it means? And I wanna make a poll instead of making a simple Instagram poll, I can turn it into a simple video game and have someone catch the right answer and dodge the wrong one.

It’s so many low-hanging fruits. Whatever the audience is, whether the audience is donors, whether the audience is beneficiaries, whether the audience is stakeholders, whichever one it is. There’s so much opportunity to leverage these engaging communication, how there’s so many interactive tools that are making purposeful communication engaging.

There are tools like Gather Town and these are just virtual spaces where now people are having meetings and it’s just a virtual world or something like people are moving through the meta words.  And it’s not all that intimidating because you can do it in bite sizes. You don’t have to move everyone into VR. There are so many different ways of doing it. So I would almost say knowing what resources are out there and taking a bite-sized approach is so much better than being like we’re gonna make a video game for our next fundraiser.  

Mallory Erickson: Yes. I love that. And also, I think that sort of gets back to the whole fun piece. I was just having a different, very different conversation recently, but about how when we’re doing really big, hard work around issues that are not particularly fun to talk about, but we want to have interactions with our donors that are lighter. And that we have to figure out creative, other ways to do that. And so I think these elements also create some lightness and levity. It doesn’t mean the issue is becoming light, but our collaboration together to achieve our goal can be a little bit lighter, which I really appreciate.

There’s a question I wanna ask you before I forget, you had said that piece before around collaborative games versus competitive games. Can those be mixed? Can you have a leaderboard and really collaborative element side by side? 

Mariam Nusrat: For sure. Like you could have groups working together and then competing against other groups. So it’s collaborate to compete, right? That’s one aspect to fit, or you could be competing within the collaborative model. So you, within the groups, you could be competing there’s also this idea where leaderboards are meant to, there’s just the ranking of 1, 2, 3, 4 , but there’s also this idea where you’re competing against your own best scores. So it’s a lot of times it’s your own competition. Then once you achieve a level of proficiency, then you become a part of a bigger group and everything. So it’s almost like pre-training where you compete with yourself till you get to that point where you were ready to collaborate with others.

And I think one of the things I was thinking was I feel like video games can be so effective with reporting, within the not-for-profit world. Because if you think about it it’s things like the number of beneficiaries impacted, you could just report the number. You could say it was 10,000. Or you could put it in a fun video game where you’re actually unlocking the five key KPIs that were teams during that process and everything. And that kind of goes back to this idea of whose KPIs were they, did you collaborate on them? Was it a leaderboard and stuff like that?

So I think we’re now looking at video games for data collection and video games for reporting, like monitoring and evaluation. And that’s something that so exciting to me. I’m an economist by academic training and I ended up in the gaming world, but it’s really interesting because the idea of using video games for data collection.

So think about what Pokemon did for physical activity. People were coming back to Pokemon because they were like, I’m gonna unlock this thing. I am gonna take an action in the real world to unlock a reward in the virtual world. So now think about data collection. There is such a low response rate for most surveys because people are not incentivized to come back to it. So if you could take a real-life action and then get a virtual reward, that’s something that all of a sudden makes data collection really exciting. So there’s a lot of I don’t know if I took it on another level, but data collection and monitoring is also something that’s really interesting and reporting for the not-for-profit world to video games.

Mallory Erickson: Interesting. Since you’re trained in habit and behavior design as well, so I was just listening to this other podcast there was talking about this study around how people felt when they watched a dog trainer who was giving a ton of positive reinforcement through treats, basically. There was a dog trainer that was really rewarding the dog every, I don’t know, five, 10 seconds. I’m making it up, versus a dog trainer who was rewarding a dog less often. And they ranked in some way their feelings about the dog training methods. And people did not like the training method that gave so many rewards. And the takeaway from it was that people don’t like feeling like something was over-manipulated in order to get a certain outcome.

There is this thing and I don’t know what it is in human psychology or whatever, where we want other people to want to do the thing. There’s this quote. Have you ever seen the movie, The Breakup with Jennifer Aniston? 

Mariam Nusrat: I have seen it, but I don’t remember it.

Mallory Erickson: There’s this scene. I can’t even believe this is the second time I’m quoting this on this podcast, but I’m gonna go for it. There’s this scene where she’s, I want you to want to do the dishes. 

Mariam Nusrat: They wanna you to put in the work. Yes. 

Mallory Erickson: Yes. And we have this all the time in our relationships, right? Like when we’re not explicitly clear about what we want with someone, because we want them to want to do the thing without us having to so specifically ask for it.

I hear from nonprofit leaders all the time. If our donors know we need money, if they wanted to give, they would just give. And I’m like, actually, that’s not how habits works, there always have to be this prompt. But there’s this fear around I don’t know, over manipulation of prompts or there’s just a deep desire to feel like people are gonna show up for you, even when you don’t ask for it. I’m not sure what the cause of it is, but I wonder if you’ve seen that dynamic play out in people’s willingness to adopt the gamification of things, or even just what comes up for you hearing that.

Mariam Nusrat: Yeah. It’s very interesting Mallory. What this makes me think about in the gaming framework is the trade-off between there’s almost too easy and too difficult. Like the game being too easy and too difficult, if it’s too easy people quit playing because they’re like this was not challenging enough. It did not make me work for it. So this idea that if you think about it, sometimes if money just shows up, it’s almost hey, I was not made to work for it. And the value of that is lower.

Then for instance, if it’s too hard, then you also give up. And I’ve seen this when I used to wear the not-for-profit hat, if there were just layers and layers of proposal, if the application process just seemed endless. I don’t even know if I’ll get to it, you just lose hope at the very beginning. And then if it’s also something that’s so trivial, then you’re like, is it really because you wanna feel competitive, you wanna feel like you earned it. You wanna feel like you are a part of this process, where you went to it and you came up on the top and then you were the one who was chosen for it and everything.

So I’m almost thinking within video games, there is this aspect of you know, rewards if they come too easy and if you’re just unlocking levels, or if there’s way too many bonuses, then people don’t value it. But then also if it’s too difficult to get them, then yeah. It’s it doesn’t work either and you almost have to have that right trade-off, that balance of saying, hey, I’m gonna have a reward system. And I’m gonna have built-in bonuses within my video game but not overdo it to the point that the player just does not value it or gets demotivated. I don’t know if that resonates, but that’s what the closest I can come to that is, it’s the process of fundraising and just you know what that means for a lot of people if it’s too easy or too hard.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. That is actually really fascinating because the person I studied under around habit and behavior change is BJ Fogg, and he has this Fogg behavior model, so the relationship between motivation ability and a prompt. And what he teaches is when somebody is not getting over the action line, it’s like a curve and you have to get over the action line, when people are not getting over the action line the first thing to look at is making the action easier to do. 

But what you’re saying is super interesting because in certain things, I totally agree, like a donation form. That needs to be as easy as possible to do. There is no loss in making that too easy. There is no potential loss. But what I hear you saying is that when something is gamified, the motivation is directly well, it’s interesting because in his model, motivation is the relationship between hope and fear. And so hope drives motivation up. Fear drives motivation down. So let’s take fear off the table from my game perspective. 

But what I heard you say is that motivation. There needs to be enough motivation. There needs to be enough hope that their involvement in the game is gonna have an impact, that their action actually has an impact. They need to have enough hope to motivate them to get over the action line. And so that actually requires it not being too easy, because if it’s too easy, they don’t believe that they have any impact. And that brings their motivation way down. What do you think this is? I’m thinking about this for the first time. That’s fascinating to me. 

Mariam Nusrat: It is. And now I’m all of a sudden thinking about because as we were talking, there’s game mechanic that are effort driven. And then if you think about it, there’s a whole genre of games, which is randomness, which is complete luck. All the gambling games, all if you’re playing the lots and all the games on the phone, which is just hey, I don’t know if I’m gonna get it or not. And then that has a different behavior, right? Where it’s just like complete luck and you don’t know what’s gonna drive it. 

But if we look at the effort-driven video games, what’s really interesting is this is actually related to retention. How many times the player comes back for more is if they had to work a little bit hard to build it, because then they’ve invested in it, and their own time is one of the biggest things, right? Levels have that concept is if you’ve gotten to level 10, then you had a journey to level 10, and you wanna continue that journey to level 50. You’re not resetting at level zero every time you come back because you wanna continue stacking that progress up. And that progress will only continue to be stacking if in the first time you’re just gonna get to level hundred. You’re like whatever, I can just repeat that the next time I play. I’m not really, it’s not that much. But if you can’t even get to level two, then you’re also like, man, I just don’t wanna invest in it. But if you can get to level 10, then you can come back and continue stacking. So again, if you think about it as fundraising, this idea that you can get to that level 10 and then build that relationship, that is iterative so that you continue to come back for more and continue to invest in the relationship. 

Mallory Erickson: Ooh, there’s a lot in there. That piece around the lotto is also really interesting to me because to me like the lotto, those types of luck games, that’s a little bit of the crystal ball, isn’t it?

Mariam Nusrat: Yeah. I look at it two ways. One of the aspects of a crystal ball in a game is that you take ownership of your actions to be, to see what that’s gonna look like tomorrow. So it’s hey, if I take this decision tree, I have A B C if I go down B, then I have D E F and then so B and F will lead me to a different outcome then A and D. And I think that crystal ball is simply saying, hey, if I take these actions today, this is what my tomorrow looks like. 

What you’re talking about is absolutely true, it’s this other world where you are actually living your luck, your fate in real time, cuz you’re finding out it’s that? I think that it is that dopamine hit that you get from that winning that you continue to come back for more. And that’s also something which like making people feel lucky to be a part of a community. Actually the Web 3 world, the NFT world is doing really right now where they’ll do an NFT drop, there’ll be 10,000 NFTs and then 500 people will get the golden NFT. And then they feel like such an important part of the community that they will then mobilize for the community.  They’ll be like, oh my God, I was this chosen one. I was so lucky to be given this. 

And if we flip it around in the not-for-profit work, you were talking about mobilizing volunteers. If you had a top tier of volunteers that just got this dropped this thing that was that they were the chosen one to the sorting hat that kind of mobilizes them to become it’s exclusive. And then that’s what makes them say, hey, you know what, I really wanna invest in this because I was lucky enough. I had the privilege to become a part of it.

Mallory Erickson: Okay. I think that point is so important, but I wanna dig in a little bit deeper to it because in the NFT world, the 500 people who get it are totally random, right? So I think what is so special about that is that. And so for fundraisers who are listening to this, I think what happens when we try to take that strategy and do it in nonprofit, we do it for our major donors. We’re like, we’re gonna make our major donors feel so lucky, and that doesn’t feel like luck. It feels contrived. 

And those are also not the people who are going to necessarily mobilize other people in the same way. And so I think what is gold about what you just said is the democratization of being special and that exclusivity doesn’t have to be like anti-inequity, that there is a way to democratize fun experiences like that but we can’t do it through the normal fundraising segments that we typically consider.

Mariam Nusrat: Ooh. I love that because I think usually with us, that randomization is after this certain gatekeeping. In order to be a part of the group that’s gonna get randomized, you already have to cross these barriers. And I think what the Web 3 World did, I’m part of all of these projects that something just shows up in your wallet, and you’re like, oh my God I feel so special. I wanna contribute. And it may be just $200 worth of an NFT, but you really show up for that community because you feel like you belong. 

And I really do think that there’s a lesson to be learned over there where I think there’s a community, especially building communities, the way that Web 3 is right now building communities. These are decentralized global communities rallying around, it’s not just pictures of monkeys, there’s actually utility that’s coming out of it because there is a shared goal because there is this idea that you feel part of it.

One thing that we can also borrow is this idea of utility. So in the Web 3 World, they often talk about, okay, if I got an NFT in my wallet, but what does that unlock apart from just the NFT itself? And I think if you think about it in fundraising, okay, your donor became part of that. It’s a small donor, but now somehow they’re part of that exclusive club. What does that unlock for them? Does that unlock an interview with a beneficiary? Does that unlock an insight into your journey? Does that unlock the opportunity to have visibility on your website? Does that unlock interview? There has to be a certain level of real-life utility that then you layer on with this virtual randomness that you just assigned to them. 

Mallory Erickson: My wheels are spinning. Okay. So this piece around how to make people feel special in the masses leads me to wanna talk a little bit about crowdfunding and the grassroots fundraising world come together with this idea of gamification. So talk to me a little bit about that.

Mariam Nusrat: So this is really interesting Mallory, because if you think about, so think about what Fitbit did for health. People were taking steps. Fitbit gamified the entire health process where it was like, okay, I’m tracking my steps. I have a goal to reach today. I’m gonna get to it. I’m competing with my friend, or I am now also doing these step goals together, where as a community, we’re taking a hundred thousand steps this week and I wanna contribute towards that goal.

I think that one of the things that comes down to is ownership. And ownership is something that I think in the tech sector, they’re now trying equity crowdfunding, which is a layer above. So you have GoFundMe and Kickstarter and those are, you make a donation and you feel good and that’s that, but in the tech world, you actually get ownership of the company.

So when I did my C Corp, even if someone put in a hundred dollars, they now own a percentage of my company and they become a part of my journey from today to whatever world I become. If I am the next unicorn or something, if I am the next TikTok of video games or the candle of video games, they will continue to benefit from that progress, not just on the day that they invested and they got a t-shirt, but now they’re actually a part of that journey.

And I think that ownership of progress is something that we don’t leverage enough in the not-for-profit world of saying, hey, I am headed somewhere and you are coming with me. Now I understand the private sector that somewhere is very financial, which is I’m gonna make a profit. And then you’re gonna get returns in your investment. But I really do think that there is something to be said about that progress that you make project by project, visibility, the beneficiaries, the impact that you’re having, if that impact becomes bigger, how do we create ownership of that impact? Not just in that moment, but something that lasts for the next five, seven years.

And I really do think that there are some lessons to be learned around gamifying that process, but then also continuing that community that comes together and not just saying, hey, a hundred people contributed to my GoFundMe. That was awesome. I got this money. I did it. But how do you continue that engagement?

Mallory Erickson: That’s interesting. Some of what you’re saying makes me think that part of that is vision, storytelling, and having fundraising campaigns that are less about a particular program or a particular thing, and more about the vision and where we’re going, and sure, yes, what’s step one. But I think a lot about the difference between nonprofit investment and startups and pre-seed funding. And I just invested in my first ever startup. 

But I remember when my business coach was talking me through it and he was like, look, I just wanna make sure you are aware you have a 97 percent chance of never getting that money back. And so it was really interesting. And I invested because I believe in it and sure it would be cool if it had financial rewards, but I really believed in it. And I really believed I wanted to be a part of the journey, honestly. 

And I think that in the startup world, people believe that other people wanna be a part of the journey, in the nonprofit world we believe that people just wanna be a part of our outcomes. And if we could shift that fundamental underlying mindset, I think we do a lot more of what you’re talking about because those stories are there, the vision is there, and the opportunity to come along on the journey is really there.

Mariam Nusrat: Oh, my God. That’s so powerful Mallory, that difference between journey versus outcomes. And I think if you look at all of this early stage startup investing, they always say vision, talk about the vision. You own it. And in the not-for-profit world, we are almost apologetic about don’t overestimate the number of beneficiaries, because then you’re gonna be held to it. So it’s almost there’s a tendency to understate the vision, just because there’s this idea that you might be held accountable if you over-promise and underdeliver.

Whereas in the startup world. Failure is like you said, 97%. I’m probably gonna lose it, but you know what that 3% makes it worth it. So there’s so much room, so much acceptance for failure. So much acceptance for going along with the journey, learning along the process, course correction as we go along. And I think it’s definite behavioral. And I just really do believe that if we can find ways of empowering people to be part of the journey. 

And this is where the last thing that I really wanna narrow down. This idea that I explored in the tech world was building in public. So it’s become something that’s really picked up. You know where in the initial days you would have Silicon Valley bros building in stealth where they would not even put the name of their company on their LinkedIn. And they would build for five years and then have this big launch because, oh my God, competitors might steal their idea.

In the tech world, it’s completely the opposite, you build in now. What I’ve been doing is building in public from day one. We didn’t even have a product and I was building a community before I was building my product. So that I did not come out with the solution and then go look for the problem for it, so that you start with the problem and then you solve it.

And I think that idea of building in public and having authentic communication is so powerful because that is what makes people mobilize financially with their time, with their resources, with their connections. They just bring everything to the table because they’re like, you know what I believe in you, I like what you’re doing and I’m gonna back you up. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a 501C, LLC or a C Corp. And I think that the underlying idea of authentic communication is just really powerful. 

Mallory Erickson: I could not agree more. Thank you so much for this conversation today. I will make sure all of the ways to connect with you and to learn more and to check out grid are all in the show notes. So people know where to find you and to try maybe building a video game, I’m gonna go try. So thank you, thank you for your time and for all of your wisdom. 

Mariam Nusrat: Thank you so much, Mallory. I really enjoyed this. I think you had my light bulbs going, super enjoyed the conversation. Thank you so much for having me.

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