Small Gifts… Big Payoffs

It’s that time of year.  Many of us are amassing our 2012 collections of “free” address labels from the various charities seeking annual contributions to their causes.  The labels seem innocent enough.  They come in an envelope, surrounding a gift request, we place the labels with our stationary or wherever we keep our bills to be paid and then… for many charities… a remarkable thing happens:  Recipients of the address labels write contributory checks to those charities – 17% percent more often than if the addressee had received the donation request without the small gift of labels.  Amazing!

I’m not saying that you wrote that check only because of the receipt of the labels… really, I’m not!  But, how aware are you of the influence of small gifts like address labels?  Were you just as likely to offer a donation to that particular charity if you had not received the little present?

It is a wonder why we behave this way.  In a great story I heard this morning on NPR on this very subject entitled, “Give And Take: How The Rule Of Reciprocation Binds Us,” Robert Cialdini, a psychologist and expert on how our behavior is impacted by social mores (I remember reading his book, Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion, when I was in business school), said that this rule of reciprocation is pounded into our psyches from childhood.

“We are obligated to give back to others, the form of behavior that they have first given to us,” he says. “Essentially thou shall not take without giving in return.”  He went on to claim that every human culture on the planet trains its members in this rule.

Simple examples of small gifts (like those address labels, which cost the charity about nine cents a sheet, by the way) include responding in turn when someone says “hello” or automatically texting back when you receive a message.  The NPR piece even opened with a story about a fellow who, in 1974, mailed out 600 holiday cards to people he did not know.  Literally, he gathered directories from several different towns and randomly selected people to whom to mail his holiday cards.  What do you think happened?  You guessed it!  He received approximately 200 responses – even several multi-page, handwritten letters – extending holiday greetings to him and his loved ones.  Many of the respondents continued to send him holiday wishes over the next decade plus.  He has saved all of the return correspondence as evidence of this reciprocation phenomenon.

So, you ask, what does this have to do with networking?  Small gifts are meaningful, impactful and influential.  If you enter networking relationships with a giver mentality, the rewards and benefits that you will personally reap will be immense!

What to give?  Well, in addition to your time, be generous with your information, resources and contacts.  Share an interesting article, website or book… provide a warm introduction to an important connection… extend an invitation to a dinner party… offer some insight on a new restaurant, movie, handyman or other useful tidbit.  You get the idea.  The more you give, the more compelled your contacts will feel to reciprocate in some way.  It’s human nature.

Don’t get me wrong.  You must genuinely be willing to give before you get.  You must not EXPECT something specific in exchange.  And, though you won’t have a clear notion of what the return is going to be, assume that your contact has some value to bring.  If, over time, you continually give and receive nothing in return, you might choose to stop investing in that relationship.  However, as you will discover, when you give… and the recipient reciprocates… you will be prompted to give some more… then they will likely give some more….  It’s a wonderful, virtuous cycle.

In another recent article (that I learned about from Brad Feld, who also encourages the give-before-you-get approach) entitled “Entrepreneurs Who Give More, Get More” by Nick Scheidie, founder of Next Level Ink, this notion of generosity was again highlighted with the following list of reasons to give:

  • Helping people is the key to success
  • People tend to return favors
  • Giving opens up your network
  • Word spreads fast
  • Karma (e.g. “what comes around goes around” or “you reap what you sow”)
  • Giving makes you happy
  • It makes the world a better place

In this season of giving, engage in networking.  Go in with a mentality and spirit of generosity.  I guarantee you will receive so much more than you give and the gifts will bear fruit for years into the future.

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