June 24, 2019 | Storytelling

The Ben Franklin “Impact Story” Effect


According to the Ben Franklin effect, “a person who has already performed a favor for another is more likely to do another favor for the other than if they had received a favor from that person.”

Basically, what that boils down to is that by doing something nice for someone—say, for example, giving them a donation—you like them more.

Multiple studies over the years have demonstrated this—test subjects’ own conduct toward others was shown to shape their perception of them. In other words…

“You tend to like the people to whom you are kind and dislike the people to whom you are rude.”

Linda P. Case, a science blogger, characterizes it in this way:

“Current self-perception theory tells us that our brains behave like an outside observer, continually watching what we do and then contriving explanations for those actions, which subsequently influence our beliefs about ourselves….Our observing brain doesn’t like it when our actions don’t match the beliefs we have about ourselves, a situation commonly referred to as cognitive dissonance. So, whenever your behavior is in conflict with your beliefs (for example if you do a favor for someone you may not like very much or vice versa, when you do something bad to someone you are supposed to care about), this conflict immediately sets off alarm bells in your brain. The brain has a clever response – it goes about changing how you feel in order to reduce the conflict and turn off the alarms.”

When it comes to soliciting existing donors for new donations, this is an important psychological phenomenon of which to be aware. Donors have done your organization a “favor” by giving money to help with your cause. Therefore, they are psychologically inclined to like your organization as a way to rationalize their giving behavior.

By leveraging this effect and keeping in it in mind when telling stories to donors, you have a tremendous opportunity to leverage what we like to call the Ben Franklin impact story effect. Telling directly relevant stories about the impact that a donor’s generosity has had on an individual when asking for incremental donations is likely to increase your chances of getting that incremental donation.

As Ben Franklin put it…

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than whom you yourself have obliged.”

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