9. Trigger reciprocity

Purpose: To encourage pro-social and environmental acts and commitments by giving people something unexpected.

Why and how it works
People in general have a strong desire for fairness. Brain researchers have found that being exposed to unjust behaviour causes a reaction in the most primitive parts of the human brain. If we are given a present by someone or invited for dinner most people feel obliged to reciprocate that act one way or another. In restaurants it is a common practice to give people something extra at the end of the meal as it increases the amount of tip that people are willing to give. Similarly it is considered an effective marketing tool to give potential new customers free samples. As shown by the experiment from the UK giving someone a small candy can increase his or her willingness to donate more money to charity.

This strategy is limited to work in situations that aim to encourage immediate decisions and acts that don’t require further actions. It is therefore unlikely to have a ’’’ effect on long-term behaviour. To give maximum effect it should be combined with other strategies, such as using the power of social norms.

Recommendations for implementation
Giving people a small gift or a favour of some kind is a simple strategy to use in situations where you want to encourage people to perform an immediate action of some kind, for instance signing a petition, participate in a green challenge or donating money to an environmental organization. Moreover it can be part of a feedback strategy to further motivate people to continue carry out a green behaviour such as cycling and choosing the climate friendly choice on the menu in the restaurant.

Example: Encouraging voluntary donation by using a “thank-you-gift”

In 2010 the UK government decided to set up a Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) within the Cabinet Office. The main purpose was to save the government money by applying insights from behavioural research to public polices. The team has conducted several trials aimed at increasing tax payments, increasing energy efficient behaviour and promote voluntary work and donations to charity. In 2013 BIT conducted five trials together with Charities Aid Foundation to test different ways of increasing people’s generosity. One of these tested the effect of small “thank you” gifts to encourage giving.

BIT conducted a trial together with the fundraising team of Deutsche Banks in their London offices. The purpose was to increase the number of employees who were willing to give a day of their salary to charity. Employees at the offices were randomly selected to receive either a standard email from the CEO addressed with their name or with ”dear colleague”. Some of the employees were also greeted in the morning with a poster advertising the campaign, volunteers with flyers or volunteers who gave them sweets.

11 per cent of the people that were greeted with sweets in the morning agreed to donate money to the charity compared to only five per cent of those in the control group. The sweets proved as effective as receiving a personalised e-mail from the CEO. The most effective strategy turned out to be combining the personalised e-mail with giving sweets. Under that condition the percentage of staff agreeing to donate rose to 17 per cent.

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