Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sustainability VI: Legitimacy Pt 5 The Passive Aggressive Method

This morning when I got to work, there was a little plate of brownies in our kitchen. A little card next to it said that this was from a wife of a co-worker. Specifically, it said "[Name], 3 Mile Cancer Walker."

Now, it's clear to me that she is looking for sponsors, and this is a fundraising tactic. This is the fifth time that there has been brownies or cookies (often with the pink breast-cancer ribbon in frosting or sprinkles). Only one of those five times was there a sponsorship jar to ollect money. Usually, the brownie has simply been consumed by myself and my co-workers without anything being returned.

Has anyone done research as to whether this is a more or less effective fundraising method (if done correctly, with points where the fundraiser does attempt to collect on it)? My hunch is that in the short term, this sort of altruism loses, and in the long term it wins. (Having read The Selfish Gene recently, I wonder if it can be analyzed using the ESS analysis... I digress)

It seems to me that the transactional fundraising model (you buy a brownie from me) isn't as good of a long-term strategy, because the transactional model seeks to finish the business deal in a single moment. Once the money is handed over, and the brownie is given, that's the end of your business.

The passive-aggressive fundraising model (I give you a brownie "on the house," and eventually figure out a way to call in the debt that makes you feel as though I haven't asked) leaves a more entrenched, long-term relationship. Even though the financial rewards aren't immediate, it seems to me that you are building up more of a sense of social connection.

Think of it this way. If you call up your neighbor and ask to borrow his wrench, and he says "Sure... the value of the wrench per day appears, at economic rates, to be 5 cents a day." Even though the cost is negligible, you won't walk away with a connection to your neighbor.

(Actually it occurs to me that this isn't necessarily the best example, because in this case lending for free is the social norm, so charging 5 cents a day will be seen as exceptionally tight-fisted, and actually creates a negative impression--for this example, just pretend that this doesn't happen).

If your neighbor lends you the wrench for free--with the chance of never seeing that wrench again--he's incurring some sort of (probably near negligible) cost to himself without passing it on to the neighbor. But later, when he asks to borrow a hammer and a screwdriver, he won't be charged the same thing.

At any rate, that comparison has turned out not to be my favorite comparison in the world. But the idea is that when we're fundraising, we have to take into account both the financial issues, and the social capital issues. It may be more worth it to incur a financial cost in the short term to incur social capital, and to later use that social capital (to a small degree) to return something financial later.

This is of course pseudo-economics, since I don't have any equations or studies to back that hunch up. But I think that's what my coworker's wife is doing with the brownies. I know that if she asked me today, I'd be willing to pay far more for the brownies I've already consumed than I would have paid up front.

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