Last November, I was driving in my car listening to NPR. I became fascinated by a story by Alix Spiegel regarding the Rule of Reciprocation.

Citing the work of Robert Cialdini, an emeritus psychologist at Arizona State University, Spiegel writes that, in a nutshell, the rule of reciprocation is:

“If someone passes you in the hall and says hello, you feel compelled to return their greeting. When you don’t, you notice it. It makes you uncomfortable, out of balance. That’s the rule of reciprocation.”

Spiegel goes on to write:

“Cialdini noticed a similar phenomenon when he studied Hare Krishnas. In airports, they would…give…people passing by what they described as a gift: a flower, a book, a magazine. Then, after the person had the gift in…hand, they would ask for a small donation. ‘You would see many of them with frowns on their faces reach into a pocket or a purse, come up with a dollar or two, and then walk away angry at what had just occurred,’ recalls Cialdini….the Hare Krishna religion raised millions of dollars this way.”

I immediately realized that this concept had a direct application to fundraising especially in the age of the social network. Reciprocation, incentive and personal connection. When presented with the right incentives, people will give, even if they are reluctant. We are socially hardwired to do so. It’s human nature.


Kickstarter is an online funding platform for creative projects. When you use Kickstarter you set a financial goal within a defined timeframe. You then reach out to as many supporters as you can to help fund your project. Donations can be as little as $1.

Kickstarter is laden with incentives. Generally, the incentives come in the form of perks. The perks could be a signed CD, backstage passes or a private performance. People like the perks because they feel more inside the world of the artist and it makes them feel a part of the process. The artist likes the perk because it brings them closer to their fans.

Recently, my wife shared with me a video of Amanda Palmer who recently did a TED talk. She is one of the Kickstarter success stories because she shattered her goal and raised a million dollars.

In her talk she describes her approach for her Kickstarter campaign and how it essentially was no different than her first job as a street performer. She was an Eight Foot Bride and she would stand still. When people would give her money she would make eye contact with them and give them a flower. Reciprocation, incentive and personal connection.


I too am currently involved in a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign’s goal is to help support the creation of a new record label. In addition to my first solo album, the label will release a Double Violin Requiem by Chicago Symphony Composer-In-Residence Anna Clyne and the opera Oceanic Verses by Paola Prestini. Although our goal is quite a bit less than a million dollars, the principals of reciprocation, incentive and personal connection remain the same.

But don’t be fooled, there is no shortcut. Kickstarter is a lot of work! You have to constantly solicit your fans and do it in a way that doesn’t turn them off. You also have to keep your supporters in the loop with your work by writing regular newsletters and updates. In previous generations it was more about the mystique of the artist. Now it’s more about transparency. Connectivity. Proximity.

Also, there is an inherent risk involved with using Kickstarter. It’s all or nothing. In other words, if you don’t reach your goal, you do not receive any of the funding.

As of this writing, we have 10 days to go with our campaign and we are 76% funded. It still remains to be seen if we can hit our goal. That being said, I feel that our chances are pretty good. But no matter what, the great thing about fundraising in the 21st century is that the process forces all of us to focus our message and goals as artists and entrepreneurs.