I’ve been thinking a lot about recycling lately.
Yesterday, I carried an empty soda bottle for about seven minutes until I passed a recycling bin. I could have dropped it in any number of garbage cans, but I didn’t. Now, you must understand: it’s important to me to recycle, but it’s not that important to me. I’m not fanatical about it.
So why did I carry around a soda bottle when I could have easily ditched it seven minutes earlier? Clearly, I had some motivation. But what was it?
In that moment, I valued the feeling of doing the “right” thing. The pride I felt (or, perhaps, the guilt that I didn’t feel) proved more valuable to me than the alternative of freeing up my hands.
No one patted me on the back. No one thanked me. There were no attaboys. No external positive reinforcement. I did it all on my own.
Which made me wonder.
Maybe we don’t need to pat our donors on their backs. Maybe we don’t need to thank them. Maybe they don’t need any external positive reinforcement.
Why is recycling any different than donating to a charity?
Well, first of all, and most importantly, the data proves that the premise is incorrect. Donors who are thanked donate more often and larger gifts.
Secondly, maybe people would recycle more if they were thanked and acknowledged. Maybe we should form some sort of Recycling Committee that asks people to recycle and monitors the results, much like your development team.
Third: Part of the pride I felt from recycling stemmed from the selflessness of the act (which is thoroughly ruined now that I am sharing this story with you). I did not want or expect any external reward for recycling. But when donating to a nonprofit, people want the external reward of gratitude from the organizations they support.
Lastly, let’s say that we did institute a Recycling Committee. Let’s say that we organized a group of people to monitor each act of recycling in the city. You can be sure that if that committee failed to acknowledge and thank those who have recycled, then the recyclers would feel unappreciated.
The Recycling Committee’s entire mission is to tell recyclers about their amazing acts of conversation. Failing to communicate that message would certainly lead to a recycling decrease .
I began this thought experiment allowing for the possibility that we’re placing too high a priority on fundraising. But seeing it all the way through has only reinforced my resolve, both to recycle and to thank our donors.
1) Recycle even though no one will ever thank you for it.
2) Thank your donors as if they’re expecting you to.