The Benjamin Franklin Engagement Effect

featureYou may be familiar with Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading author, scientist, civic activist, statesman, diplomat, and inventor. Among his many creations were the lightning rod, Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, and the flexible urinary catheter. Who knew that Franklin created a tool for campus leaders like you in the 21st century to create x+1 moments?

That tool is the Benjamin Franklin Effect, which says: “A person who has performed a favor for someone is more likely to do another favor for that person than they would be if they had received a favor from that person.” Franklin explains this idea when he dealt with a rival legislator when he served in the Pennsylvania legislature in the 18th century:

“Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.”  (From the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin)

This is such a powerful tool for every campus leader, which can be used to increase others’ engagement levels from (x) to (x+1). How can we as campus leaders use this proposed psychological phenomenon just as Franklin did in the 1800s? Here are a few ways:

Use it while planning events on campus. When your campus organization is holding an event, ask others to cosponsor or come to help with that event. You may make that partnership again in the future.

Ask someone within your campus organization if they can volunteer. Let that one person in your group know that they would be a great fit for a certain role in your organization. You need a community service coordinator for the semester? Ask away, and expect to get an engaged team member.

Create Open Doors, Open Hearts moments. Allow your team members to share what’s going on in each of their lives. Not only is this bringing the team closer, but it is also letting them be there and help each other (and thus, more likely to be there and help each other again.

Look for other ways to incorporate the Benjamin Franklin effect, and I promise you, you will have a community where everyone feels welcomed, connected, and engaged.

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