Chasing that ‘Helper’s High’

by Kate_NFG on ‎04-08-2011 11:58 AM, EDT - last edited on ‎12-19-2012 6:42 PM, EST by Network for Good Specialist

At Network for Good, we often reference the ‘Helper’s High’ – the feeling of euphoria that people report after giving to charity – when talking to potential partners about the value and relevance of charitable engagement programs for customers or employees.  A donation is truly a gift for the giver and the recipient nonprofit.


Then why is it so common for nonprofits to encourage donations by sending a small unsolicited gift with each direct mail appeal?  Isn’t the ‘Helper’s High’ enough motivation? Feeling good about giving is a great result, but it only manifests after someone has committed to making the donation.  As Neuromarketing puts it, “The concept of reciprocity suggests that giving someone something, or doing a favor for someone, establishes a subtle return obligation.”  The bonus is that you also feel good after you meet that obligation (or make that donation).


Yesterday when I retrieved my mail, I noticed three envelopes from different nonprofits that each included a donation appeal with a small gift –a set of address labels, a nickel,  and a handmade bookmark from a program beneficiary.  I get a set of address labels at least twice a month from various organizations – I’m stocked up through 2015 for sure – so this little bonus didn’t tap any real desire to respond.  I found the nickel intriguing since the message was about how my donation could amplify the value of that 5₡ investment, but it didn’t connect me to the organization’s mission.  The bookmark gave me pause.  The handcrafted quality and the story about the beneficiary brought the organization’s mission to life.  I was compelled to donate and make sure more beneficiaries had the opportunity to thrive and share their success on a bookmark.  The right type of gift can obligate the recipient to take action. 




But does the size of a gift matter?  New research says yes.  German researcher Armin Falk demonstrates that the reciprocity effect is directly tied to the size of the gift.  Falk mailed 10,000 donation requests in three samples: one sample just received a letter (no gift), another received the letter and a postcard (small gift) and the third received the letter plus a set of postcards (large gift).  The results are staggering.  The third group that received the large gift donated 75% more than the first group that just received the letter.  The second group that received the small gift donated 17% more than the first group, demonstrating that “the reciprocity effect is relative to the perceived size of the gift”.   


What does this mean in the context of CSR and engagement with customers and employees?  Advocates of corporate social responsibility (CSR), strive to embed CSR values and strategies within the culture of the company.  For some companies, that may happen organically, especially if CSR values are part of the founding principles.  For most companies, CSR is a newer concept that requires stewardship to take root and grow. 


Reciprocity can be a powerful engine for that growth. 

  • Consider how many employees would adopt personal sustainability goals at work if their employer incentivized the actions (free branded reusable water bottles for all!) and removed barriers (recycling bins for all!). 
  • Think about how motivating corporate matching grants are to boost employee charitable giving. Or ‘dollars for doers’ programs to inspire volunteerism. 
  • We’ve all succumbed to the power of a free gift with purchase at the mall.  What if that free gift were a charity gift card to spread generosity?  Or a sustainable product to encourage environmentalism through consumer choices? 

How we incentivize employee and consumer behavior though our programs and policies can make all the difference.  Establishing the right size ‘gift’ (aka incentive) will motivate the proportionate CSR action (water conservation, charitable donation, volunteer time, conscious consumerism etc…) and ultimately create positive outcomes – and the bonus of a ‘Helper’s High’!


Read more about the reciprocity effect and Falk’s research on the Neuromarketing blog … 


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Companies for Good shares insights on cause marketing and corporate social responsibility topics to inform your charitable engagement with consumers and employees. Network for Good empowers corporate partners to unleash generosity and advance good causes. The blog celebrates that work and provides expertise and resources to help you do well and do good. Learn more

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