a $100 bill with franklin's face on it
"He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another; than he whom you yourself have obliged."

The Franklin Effect: Ask for a favor, and sweeten up a bitter America

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another; than he whom you yourself have obliged,” Benjamin Franklin wrote. Some call it the Franklin Effect, a playbook on how to transform haters and doubters into friends.

I’ve seen it in action for years. I am a professional fundraiser. I help nonprofits cultivate donors and give those donors the opportunity to participate in sacred work, to make this world a better place.

Good fundraisers are trained in the art of the “ask.” The “ask” is crucial because once someone has given something — anything — he or she is primed to give again. Thanks to the Franklin Effect, I have brought in a number of seven-figure gifts, enhanced major gift initiatives, increased annual campaigns by nearly 63 percent, doubled legacy and endowment gifts and, more importantly, increased participation across the political divide, generations and gender in the community.

Let me womansplain for you: Successful fundraisers understand that engaging and cultivating relationships takes an investment of time and energy. Kind of like in marriage. Success is measured by ensuring lifelong commitments. One-night stands are never gratifying or cost-effective either in dollars, or in enhancing relationships. The next day you may be left with some good feelings, but they are fleeting.

The lessons I’ve learned as a fundraiser and community organizer can work for us all. Cultivation truly will translate into a kinder and less hateful America. Try it.

Begin in a small way by going next door or crossing the street to your neighbor and ask to borrow a cup of sugar or an egg. Allow your neighbor to do you a favor. Psychology and science tells us that it is nearly impossible to “hate” a person for whom you do a favor. It’s the Franklin Effect!

Success is measured by ensuring lifelong commitments.

Our new neighbors decided to build a swimming pool. They neglected to tell us. The constant pounding of construction put cracks in our walls and in our family. Our daughters could no longer do homework in their rooms. My partner could no longer work from home. Construction began at 6 a.m. and ended at sundown seven days a week. There was filth, noise, trucks and workers everywhere, all the time. When our shared fence came down, the workers ripped out my rose bushes. I hated these horrid people — and I had never even met them.

Irate and extremely annoyed, I grabbed an empty cup and marched next door.

“Hi. I am your neighbor. All of my walls are cracked. My daughters cannot do homework in their rooms. Your pool project has destroyed my house, fence, roses and family. My life is intolerable.”

And then holding out my cup I asked, “May I please borrow some sugar?”

“Sorry, we don’t do sugar,” said my neighbor, Juliet. I hated her even more.

“Do you have anything I can borrow?” I sheepishly asked.

Juliet invited me in. Turns out my neighbors, Juliet and her husband, Kelly, are gurus in the CrossFit world. We talked some more. My teen began babysitting for her kids and was hired to do an internship at their gym. Yes, the construction continued for another three months, but the workers began at a normal hour and ended by 5 p.m. And Juliet and I became fast friends.

Practice on your neighbor. After you do, go even further outside; ask a favor from someone outside of your comfort zone. In a time of crisis, that Republican, or gay person, or African American, or white person, or Muslim or Jew will be more likely to assist you and have a favorable impression of you.

To avoid living in a state of toxic fear, we must create and find webs of connection. Reach out across the aisle and meet the person you most fear. And then? Ask for a favor.

Healing the divisions in this country must come from the rank and file, from the bottom up. It cannot and will not come from political leadership.

We must all become activists — and not necessarily beginning with a march or letter-writing campaign. Practice the art of asking, because it cultivates community. The results will transform our country, one cup of sugar at a time.

maxine epstein
Maxine Epstein

Maxine Epstein is a development specialist in the Bay Area Jewish community and a fundraising consultant to nonprofits. She is president and CEO of the Next Tent and is currently working with the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center.