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October 19, 2022

Mission Multiplier: Better Than Average Effect

Jane Pfeiffer

Hello and welcome to Mission Multiplier. I’m Jane Pfeiffer, founder and president of Fieldtrip. We’re a marketing and branding firm dedicated to helping nonprofits and purpose driven organizations eliminate their biggest costs. The cost of IDKs, which are “I don’t knows” or the cost of lost opportunities. Today I’m going to talk about the Better Than Average Effect. And to get this right, I’m going to read it directly from the 2019 American Psychological Association study. The Better Than Average Effect or BTAE, is the tendency for people to perceive their abilities, attitudes, and personality traits as superior compared with their average peer. It reveals a robust tendency for people to perceive themselves as superior when compared with others. This effect is more pronounced when looking at personality traits than abilities and it’s associated with higher self-esteem. So it’s mathematically impossible that all of us are better than average. And this was a predominant feeling.

The reason that I’m talking about this is we uncovered this effect as we were studying the reasons why people litter. You know, what is it that just makes people avoid putting trash in its place? The thinking allows people to point the finger and away from personal accountability and towards an unknown other. Especially in the case of litter, you see it, so therefore others must be doing it, or you don’t, so that means you’re better. This thinking means that I can give myself a free pass when a receipt blows out of my hand, the wind takes it away down the sidewalk and rather than take that effort, because I’m running late, I think, “Well I never litter, so it won’t hurt much to let one piece escape because I’m better than everybody else when it comes to litter.” So why is this important? The comfort of believing that we’re better than average impacts more than just litter. It influences social perception and social actions. You’ve probably heard of the analogy about the bear. So if you’re in a forest, you don’t need to outrun the bear. You just need to outrun at least one person that you’re with. Well, think about that. If we’re better than average, if we’re faster than the average person, I don’t have to worry about outrunning the bear. I just have to have the confidence that I can outrun at least one person on my team or in that group. And therefore, I don’t have to worry that much. I don’t have to practice. I don’t have to strategize. I don’t have to take bear repellent with me because I’m confident that it won’t be me.

Now apply that thinking to your mission. Your supporters likely feel that they’re better than average when it comes to corporate sponsorships, individual donations, volunteering, or even getting on board that these problems that need to be solved in their community and neighborhood. So the bear of hunger, or domestic abuse, addiction, these are things that not everyone has had personal experience with. They can point and “other” them, thinking that, well, that bear lives closer to others. I don’t know that. I don’t understand it. So there’s others that are better equipped, but also I’m a better than average citizen, contributor, all around good person that what I do is sufficient because I’m better than average. We get lured into a false sense of security. I don’t know that we think as leaders of nonprofits that we actually have to bust through that confidence or false superiority to get people to own that yes, maybe it’s true, they’re better than average, but we all have to accept personal responsibility and become part of solutions if we are going to change the world. And how to do that? Well, let’s talk about that next week. Thanks for watching. And for more videos visit, See you soon.