Saturday, July 25, 2015


The unspoken human rule of reciprocity worked both to keep members in TFI and keep the donations coming in.

Reciprocation can be defined as the overpowering feeling of social obligation to return favors. In society, it helps promote cooperation and harmony. In the cult, it was a great recruiting method and also worked wonders in the soliciting of donations.

Many people will donate their time to a good cause because they are "good people," and well, that was the backbone of TFI membership: giving of yourself to work hard "for the lord" 24/7 for no pay - just "treasure in heaven." Once that premise was adopted, with deep desire for consistency and aversion to embarrassment or stigma, we remained loyal.

Even more germane is the role reciprocity played as a supremely effective fundraising tool. In addition to being a way to avoid possible taxation issues from overtly "selling" TFI products, like posters, magazines, CDs, etc., we gave them out and asked for a donation to "help cover costs," or the classically vague, "to help with our missionary work." Even if people didn't want what we offered, the likelihood of getting a donation was high because of this ingrained feeling of polite obligation. The stated reason for giving the donation proved not to be as salient as the fact that a reason was given, as was demonstrated in experiments by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer. People simply like being given a reason to comply.

A form of reciprocation applies to another TFI witnessing/fundraising technique practiced by the most successful - concession. The routine went like this: First offer one of the most expensive items, such as a set of videos (back in the day). When that was refused, offer something smaller, like a set of CDs. No? "Then how about a magazine?" No? "Would you like a poster?" No? "How about just giving a donation of any amount you like?" After all that, it was the rare person indeed who didn't give something, and usually something substantial.

Most people consider themselves to be kind. Self-image plays a role in all of our behavior, including the reflex reaction of reciprocity. We tend to behave in a way that is consistent with our internal narrative. "I'm a good person," so of course I want to help with good causes, volunteer, donate blood, recycle, give to help the needy, and of course, return favors.

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