In a previous post we looked at “The Six Human Need You Need To Address In Your Donor Communications” and learned that although we all have a personal truth, worldview, perception of reality, there are universals that affect and direct all of us in our lives, and philanthropic pursuits. Today we take 15 to look at the universal principles of influence as outlined by Robert Cialdini [of “Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion” fame] in his long-awaited follow up book “Pre-suasion – A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade“, and how we might utilize these principles while amplifying our narratives and cultivating the joy of giving.

Here’s the quick list of the 12 principles – This is part I of a 12 part series. Links will be updated as posts are posted.

Meaningful and Unexpected
Similarities [those like us – tribes] Compliments
Social Proof
Feasibility of Goals
Movtivating action
As with every post about persuasion, there’s always the caveat that this isn’t about using the principles for malicious intent, blah, blah. I guess I just fell victim to the same bs.

The Principle of Reciprocation:

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours

This principle states that all of us are psychologically bound, even driven, to repay actual or perceived debts of all kinds – if someone does something for you, give something to you, you will feel an obligation to repay them [note: this is working on both the conscious and subconscious levels – if you think that you can “outwit” the principles at play]. Like all principles of influence, reciprocity is a shortcut for making decisions. I’m going to assume that at your age you know all about the concept of our brains being deletion machines – i.e. it takes in millions of sensory inputs per second and ignores 99% of them in order to live, blah blah, google it if not.

Reciprocity allows us the benefit of deciding solely on our prior experience with a person or organization even, if we are able and willing to do something for them. If someone does us a solid, then later asks us for a favour, we usually say yes without hesitation. Ahh, anthropological social cohesiveness through the web of indebtedness.

So how exactly does it work? Simple. You give something away, it can be tangible or intangible: a gift, service, information, assistance; in order to create a feeling of indebtedness. You then ask for what it is you want and let the principle go to work.

Supercharging the principle

Give first, make it FREE:
She who gives first gains leverage, while the receiver is indebted. This is the first aspect should you want to activate the influence of reciprocity. An important aspect is that your gift must be free, it cannot be conditional, else it becomes a transactional relationship.

Mission related, value, impact:
Donors will feel manipulated if your “gift” is not valuable [not necessarily monetary wise] or beneficial to them – it cannot be perceived as self-serving. It is important that you recognize this. One way to supercharge the perceived value of your gift is to make sure that it is also mission related, as this will demonstrate impact [amplifying the narrative] that your donor is pivotal in creating, leaving them more likely to feel indebted to you and respond to whatever your specific call to action is at that time.

Put a face on it:
People give to people, not organizations. Whenever possible, make it clear that your gift is coming from an actual real person, with a real name, a real face, a real life. People are quick to expect “Freebies” or to categorize gifts from organizations [even if they are free] as a transactional relationship since more and more people are catching on to how marketers work [i give you this as advertising]. So for example, if your gift comes in a letter or email, make it that the person offering the gift is the signatory.

Give again, then again, then again:
Reciprocity is a zero-sum, one time offer. The key is to work the principle as an unexpected reward, at seemingly randomized intervals in your planned donor journeys – from acquisition to second gift appeals, to celebrating donor anniversaries. The key is to continuously plan to leverage the principle across your integrated channels and donor life-cycles.

Donor’s expect that you communicate with them as a human, not a number, or donor ID field. It is important that you personalize your offering to the donor’s values and interests as much as possible. This includes referring to them by name, perhaps their location, and leveraging any other giving motivation insights that you may have about them. For example, if your cause is related to literacy of both adults and children, and the donor has at some point in the past mentioned that their young child or grown spouse benefitted from your programs, make sure that you reference the appropriate motivation for giving as they are very different conversations.

Principle stacking:
Other aspects to stack on the principle are the complimentary rules of Scarcity, Social Proof, and Compliments. As mentioned at the top of the page I am currently writing posts on each of these principles and will update this post with links when they are published.

The most obvious example of reciprocity at work is non-profit direct marketing aquisition mailing premium packages [although these are more and more drawing the ire of the general public, many attuned to the persuasion at work, they still activate new donors at respectable response rates, even though I would love to see more mission-related premiums in the future rather than what is often useless tchotchkies]. Many nefarious scam artists also leverage the power of reciprocity in my city, such as the Reeses peanut buttercup scam, often pulled on the uninitiated at the corner of Bloor/Yonge.

What can you give to donors?

Anything. But first think of what you want to receive [and don’t limit yourself to only donations]. Your first step is to develop an idea of what your sole call to action will be when you give a gift, and work backwards from there with a gift that the donor will find valuable and be persuaded to support you. A reminder that gifts can be both tangible and intangible

  • As mentioned, you might include a mission-related premium in your direct mail package, say a pack of christmas cards, and ask for a donation.
  • If your cause is poverty alleviation, you might offer your constituents a free financial planning kit, in exchange for their cellphone number [to communicate with them later].
  • Health related charities might offer a free PDF healthy recipe book in exchange for their email address [again, to then further introduce them to the work that you do so that you can make an ask down the road].
  • Your legacy giving program might provide prospects with exclusive information about estate planning, or a free in person interview xx.
Trials, special prices or limited time offers, samples, ensure that you integrate it with your development goals.
The next universal principle of influence surrounds the concept of making everything “Meaningful and Unexpected”. A link will be posted once it’s up.
May you continue to cultivate the joy of giving


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