Norms, Compliance, and Asking for Money

moneyRecently, I got an email from my alma mater. I’ve agreed to serve as a class agent, one of those people who pesters other graduates from my class to give money to our school (in large part, I do this because I figure it gets me out of having to give much money myself, but shhh–I’d prefer that they chalk up my pro-social behavior to more altruistic motivations). Anyway, here was the email I got, with language we’re supposed to use to convince our fellow alumni to make a donation, no matter how small:

When we get the class participation number up it does all kinds of things. Primarily, it sends a message to people who want to learn more about XXX College– whether they are prospective students, prospective faculty or staff, or anyone considering becoming part of the XXX community – that this is a place people enjoy being. It tells the world this is a place that has made a mark on us for the better. It signals to the classes before and after us that our place in the XXX community is well occupied and in good hands, and they should also rise to the occasion. And perhaps some may find it a bit easier to make a larger donation knowing that 75% of your classmates are right there doing what they can. The bottom line is, your donation may be a drop in the bucket. But don’t underestimate the power of its magnetic pull on more and bigger drops all around it now and into the future. And the cool thing is, you can send that message for the price of two lattes if that’s what you want to do. We just need you to do it, today. Please.

So what do you think? Good effort at compliance? What concepts from the course, particularly Chapter 8, do you see at play here?

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15 Responses to Norms, Compliance, and Asking for Money

  1. tkolbj01 says:

    This is very similar to the emails that my highschool sends us with the same purpose. My school actually sends emails every month with updated participation stats (IE 70% participation for your class of 2014, join them to help improve XX school for years to come). Sometimes they set random dates and goal percentiles to add urgency (which seems to be effective as participation always increases much more rapidly during those times). These emails emphasize descriptive norms that favor their end goal so you will join in on what your peer group did.

    For me, this was ineffective and some of that could be attributed to the bystander effect. I received a mass email and they were already bragging about the large amount of participation they had received so I didn’t feel the need to take action so there was a large diffusion of responsibility.

    The end of this message also seems to use informational methods to increase drive to participate, much like the Langer study they are saying please help us BECAUSE we are in a rush (for what?? it doesn’t seem like they actually are) and they really need the money (much like the case of let me use the printer because I need to make copies). Nether seem all that compelling when you analyze them but considering they are proven compliance methods it seems like a solid effort.

    • The bystander effect definitely takes hold here for me as well. My high school asks for money all the time, especially now that they are building a new wing with a new library and “math labs.” It seems very fancy and like it’s already well-funded, and there are thousands of alumni that receive these emails, so why should I help? Obviously, once my friend from high school volunteered to be the class agent, I gave five dollars.

      Interestingly, we were all required to give in high school (you could give a penny, but you had to give something) as we were graduating. This could be the foot in the door technique, but perhaps stretched a bit for time? Not sure if it’ll still work, and it didn’t on me, but interesting to think about nonetheless.

      • I agree that the foot in the door technique is likely being utilized at your high school and in Professor Sommers’ situation. As you said, this technique is definitely being stretched over time, but it definitely has the potential to work none the less. If the school were to call back each successive year and slightly up their asking for donations based on a previous donation, they may be able to get more and more out of their alumni each year. Personally, if I donated $5 one year and then was asked to donate $6 the next, I probably wouldn’t hesitate. This may be a slow approach to increasing individual donations, but could certainly be a useful strategy for schools to use.

        • kalper02 says:

          This slow approach also capitalizes on humanity’s competitive nature. It surely feels rewarding to be able to contribute more each year after graduating. As you become more successful and can give more, it would make sense that your gratitude for the institution would increase anyway.

  2. Daniel Dinjian says:

    I think that it’s really cool how there’s this duality between diffusion of responsibility where the fact that other people are equally if not more qualified to do something makes you less likely to do that, and the peer pressure effect where believing that other people are doing something makes you more likely t0 do it. I think that because this is a general, rather than specific, letter people are more likely to write it off and diffusion of responsibility plays a big role in excusing people from the desire to donate. On the other hand, if the names of people who did NOT donate were to be published, I think they would feel a lot more pressure to not stick out in a bad way, which is a main part of what makes peer pressure work.

    • I totally agree, and when messages are more personalized they seem to cause the recipient to feel as if they NEED to comply with the request. Maybe the idea of “injunctive norms” also plays a role here, as the recipients want to feel that their behavior is “approved” by others which leads them to donate money.

    • Holden says:

      I was kind of surprised to see the “NOT” in that last sentence because that seems really unrealistic to me. Even if the email includes the names of people who did donate, a more socially acceptable technique, peer pressure would still ensue. When they see that their friends are donating, they feel more obligating to get on that list.

    • Rebecca says:

      I think your observation on the seemingly contradictory suggestions of the theory of diffusion of responsibility and the theory of the peer pressure effect is very keen! Thanks for point it out! I’ve never thought of such connection before.

      I think a major difference between these two is that in a “diffusion of responsibility” scenario, the majority is likely to be composed of those who remained silent (think about the Genovese case); but when the peer pressure effect is at work, the majority often consists of those who took action (in the case of Dr. Sommers’ letter: 75% of the class donated.) I think the behavior of the majority that people are conforming to under the influence of either effect is one of the factors that accounts for the different behaviors that each effect leads to.

  3. Michael Rogalski says:

    Is no one else reminded of the Goldstein et al. (2008) Hotel Towels Study? This tactic is almost exactly the same as one of their experimental conditions with the sign that said “75% of previous guests IN THIS ROOM reused their towels.” That sign garnered a 12% increase in hotel towel use from 37% to 49%, so I would not be surprised to see a greater number of donations from the Class of XX when the school claims that 75% of THIS CLASS has donated. It’s the perception that your one’s own in-group (people in Room 426 or the Class of XX) has already reused or donated that drives some to do the same.

    There are multiple reasons this paragraph may work to induce compliance (donations). Perhaps the norm of reciprocity is at play, where people feel a need to repay a school that gave them “the best four years of their lives” when it is declared urgent to donate. Perhaps it is the desire to avoid dissonance. Maybe you consider yourself one of the smarter people in your graduating class, and you see that 75% of people have already donated. Does this mean 75% of people from the Class of XX are more rich and successful than you? Are you a failure? Of course not, but those are dissonant cognitions that could arise from that paragraph. So maybe, to resolve the dissonance you give $10 and renew your confidence that you’ve done well in life. Whatever the reasons for compliance are, the Goldstein et al. study leads me to believe that this email worked to bolster compliance.

    • I thought of that too, as I read the email. It definitely reminded me of the language used by the Goldstein et al. study. The writer of this email knew exactly what they were doing, and what the best tactics are in convincing people. Perhaps receiving this email would make one feel less adequate, and thus incentivise them to donate money. Also the idea of injunctive norms seems to be very much at play, even though the chance of knowing who did and did not donate money is quite slim.

  4. Olympe Nalbandian says:

    The writer of this alumni fundraising email did a good job in inducing compliance. One way in which it encourages donations seems to be by implicitly creating a sense of peer pressure by stating that 75% of fellow alumni are making donations. Also, the alumni could just be conforming to “social norms” when deciding to actually donate. Alumni may feel that they are expected to be generous toward their alma mater as a way to pay a debt of gratitude for their education and valuable experiences . Alumni who donate may also feel that they have a bond with their former classmates and as a result, are expected to conform to the “group” by also donating.

    • Aubrey Tan says:

      I totally agree with you about the numerical statistic giving alums a greater sense of compliance to donate. There is definitely a sense of obligation that can arise knowing that more than half of your fellow classmates helped out the good cause and you were in the minority that didn’t end up donating. I also liked how you pointed out the goodness someone may feel about giving back to an institution that offered them opportunities and life experience.

  5. Lucy B. Ren says:

    I can see evidence of a lot of the topics that we covered about social influence in this email, and makes me think that the author of the email definitely knew what they were utilizing. I see use of both compliance and conformity, and this email reminds me a lot of the wording techniques used in the hotel towels study. By telling you that 75% of your classmates have donated, they are hoping that you will conform to these actions and also donate. I feel like this email is also utilizing both descriptive norms in telling you what other people are doing, as well as injunctive norms because you are supposed to be proud and supportive of your alma mater. By donating, you are conforming to society’s expectations of how you should give back and be thankful of your alma mater, showing that “this is a place that has made a mark on us for the better.” In addition, I see evidence of the foot-in-the-door technique, because they make it seem like they are only asking you for a minor request– to give up the price of two lattes. The last line of the email is particularly intense in terms of social pressure, and almost seems directed at you.

    • Kavya Boorgu says:

      i definitely agree that it overall does a good job at utilizing social influence. It especially makes good use of the central route to persuasion with phrases like “your donation may be a drop in the bucket” that presents counterarguments and immediately disproves them.

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