Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall, Who’s The Most Generous Of Them All?

Recently, the Harvard Health Blog published a summary of a new study from Arizona State University that looked at how your friends influence the size of your waistline.  Turns out that humans are incredibly (and subconsciously) social beings who will “mirror” the behaviors of others naturally.

One of the Arizona State researchers gave an example:

“You’re at a restaurant with friends and the waiter brings over the dessert menu. Everyone else decides not to order anything, so you pass, too, even though you were dying for a piece of chocolate mousse cake.”

We mirror each other.

Similarly, we have come to understand that “mirroring” body language helps to create rapport and trust with others.  If our conversational partner leans into the discussion, we will naturally do the same if we are feeling positive about the interaction.

We mirror each other.

Recently, I had an otherwise smart higher education leader on the phone and he asked me about advisory councils and their worth.  “I just don’t see how getting a group of people together and asking for their advice will help us raise more money.  Seems like a lot of work for an unknown reward,” he complained.

I responded by talking about the need to get the “right” folks on his advisory council – those of influence, affluence, and a willingness to be generous.  And that if you want money you ask first for advice to engage more than their pocketbooks.  Finally, not only could the advisory council members become major donors, but they could open doors to other new major donor prospects.

He remained unsure and, I believe, unconvinced.  Probably because I failed to offer up the biggest reason why attracting affluent and generous people to your institution helps you raise more money. . . We mirror each other!

If the group norm is to be financially generous in significant ways, most members of the group will behave similarly.  It’s about shaping the culture.  It’s about role-modeling.  It’s about mirrors.

We owe it to our institutions and to tomorrow’s major donors to make sure that we have the appropriate mirrors engaged.  Major donors who regularly express their generosity are important not simply because of their own giving and who else they might know.  They are important because they can be the mirrors that reflect a charitable mindset onto all those around them.


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