Why reciprocity must be an essential tool in your fundraising toolbox

MarketSmart characters
MarketSmart lightbulb icon

Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

Every single human being in every single society on earth subscribes to an unspoken rule when it comes to reciprocation as follows:
If someone does something for you, you ought to repay them in kind.

This has been baked into each of our minds as a survival mechanism because cooperation generally helps us stay alive.

You can and should use reciprocity as a tool to raise more money. Here’s why:
The law of reciprocity (that everyone on earth obeys) usually leads to unfair exchanges. In other words, a gift from you to a supporter (that cost you just a couple of bucks) will usually trigger an exponentially greater gift in return.

This works in the private sector too. Free samples. Free trials. Discount offers. They invite reciprocation because they gently make people feel obligated to respond.

I was at the mall last weekend and a nice young lady offered me a free taste of some Kung Pao Chicken. I took it. Then, I felt obligated to buy my lunch from that vendor. Sold! And what did it cost them? A tiny piece of chicken.

Don’t overlook the power of the law of reciprocity— one of the most effective tools of persuasion.
Today, think about what you can give to your supporters that might help you get another visit, a gift or a referral.

Can’t come up with any offers? Give us a call. We know which offers work! We’ve been testing them for years.


>> Show Some #DonorLove
>> Make it Easy to Stay in Touch with Your Donors by Using a Communications Calendar

7 responses to “Why reciprocity must be an essential tool in your fundraising toolbox”

  1. Madison says:

    Interesting blog! It is very true reciprocity is essential in fundraising. How do you think on the ground fundraisers can make the most of this? I would think that social media is a good way to engage people and create genuine relationships as well.

    • Greg Warner says:

      On the ground fundraisers usually interrupt people on the street and ask them for a gift.

      Instead, they should offer them a sticker for their car or something like that (especially, it should include a logo and powerful message advocating the cause). THEN, they should ask for the gift!

      That would generate much more revenue because the small ‘gift’ would attract and encourage engagement with a stranger on the street.

      You can’t ask for a gift without engagement.

      Engagement comes first!

  2. Ben Madonia says:

    Benjamin Franklin had a better idea. When tasked with securing funding for the American Revolution from the French, he asked the French dignitary, the foreign minister, I think, if he could borrow a book from his excellent collection. Benjamin Franklin cultivated his relationship with the Frenchman, discussed the book and when the time came to ask him for financial support, he secured it.
    Modern Psychology says we humans desire to remain consistent in our behavior so as not to experience Cognitive Dissonance.
    The recent studies by Russell James prove, what we knew anecdotally, that our best planned gift donors are consistent Annual Fund donors and, once a planned gift is completed, donors contribute even more to the Annual Fund.
    All the best,
    Ben Madonia

  3. Greg Warner says:

    Very true. Good thinking Ben.

  4. Scott says:

    Greg, Thank you. This is great. I’ve got some ideas, but I’d love to know what your testing has revealed about offers that work. Would you mind sharing a few?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get smarter with the SmartIdeas blog

Subscribe to our blog today and get actionable fundraising ideas delivered straight to your inbox!