The biggest barrier to generosity may not be getting people to give but people’s reluctance to ask for what they need.
Mostly, people enjoy helping (but not so much that they can get burned out by their own goodness.) They want to give and be recognized for their giving.
People can’t give when they don’t know what others need
According to the University of Michigan’s Wayne Baker, a solution to the awkwardness of asking for help is the notion of reciprocity rings (or reciprocity bulletin boards.) Boeing, Citigroup, Estee Lauder, General Motors, Google, IBM, Novartis, UPS, and others have implemented informal networking groups to facilitate asking—and giving.
In All You Have to Do Is Ask (2020,) Baker explains that these onetime or recurring networking meetings have individuals explain one by one the specific issues they’re facing. The rest of the group taps their knowledge, resources, wisdom, or networks to help the requestor. In a sense, a reciprocity ring is an expanded version of the “daily stand-up,” “daily huddle,” or “scrum meeting” that many teams use to talk over what they’re each working on and where they need help.
Wharton School’s Adam Grant popularized the concept of reciprocity rings in his book Give and Take (2014.) He argues that reciprocity rings normalize asking and giving. They build trust and relationships by creating new and fast connections where they may not exist otherwise.
A charitable mood sets in—reciprocity rings engender altruism.
Helping others without the expectation to have that help reciprocated is the foundation of altruism. A reciprocity ring cultivates an environment of giving. According to All You Have to Do Is Ask, a reciprocity ring helps people overcome their hesitations and fears about asking for help because everyone’s making a request. Baker cites research that the takers in the groups tend to give three times more than they get. Over time, people tend to make more significant requests.
Idea for Impact: Assemble an informal network and facilitate opportunities to ask for and help one another. It’s an easy and effective way to build connections and strengthen the spirit of the community.
Take a cue from Bay Area career coach Marty Nemko, who organizes his own informal reciprocity ring. Nemko’s “board of advisors” meets for an hour every month, and each person talks about a thorny personal—or professional—problem they’re facing and requests input from others.