Kunz was a sociologist at Brigham Young University. Earlier that year he’d decided to do an experiment to see what would happen if he sent Christmas cards to total strangers.
And so he went out and collected directories for some nearby towns and picked out around 600 names. “I started out at a random number and then skipped so many and got to the next one,” he says.
To these 600 strangers, Kunz sent his Christmas greetings: handwritten notes or a card with a photo of him and his family. And then Kunz waited to see what would happen.
But about five days later, responses started filtering back — slowly at first and then more, until eventually they were coming 12, 15 at a time. Eventually Kunz got more than 200 replies. “I was really surprised by how many responses there were,” he says. “And I was surprised by the number of letters that were written, some of them three, four pages long.”
The premise of this article is that people feel compelled to reciprocate your generosity. And once you know that, you can take advantage of it.
Exhibit A: those little pre-printed address labels that come to us in the mail this time of year along with letters asking for donations.
Those labels seem innocent enough, but they often trigger a small but very real dilemma. “I can’t send it back to them because it’s got my name on it,” Cialdini says. “But as soon as I’ve decided to keep that packet of labels, I’m in the jaws of the rule.”
The packet of labels costs roughly 9 cents, Cialdini says, but it dramatically increases the number of people who give to the charities that send them. “The hit rate goes from 18 to 35 percent,” he says. In other words, the number of people who donate almost doubles.