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"Free bananas!...Get your free bananas here....Anyone for a free banana?"

Actually I quite fancy a banana, I thought, while hearing this pitch at Waterloo station this morning. Why not?

As with lunches, of course, it's never quite that simple. I was given the banana by a man about thirty holding a donation box, and wearing a t-shirt for the hospice service for children and young adults, Naomi House. He didn't ask for any money, but my sense of reciprocity kicked in instinctively, and I found myself putting 50p in the box. I also noticed that another commuter put £1 just after me. It turns out the guy was a company director, doing some voluntary work, and he told me his task was to give away a thousand bananas that morning, while several others working for the same charity did the same thing nearby.

Now there is an excellent idea. While 'chuggers', are often charismatic, creative and charming individuals working for worthy causes, they nonetheless have a mixed reputation because their modus operandi is to hijack our time and attention as a way of seeking out our money. Personally I have twice succumbed to this approach, and have given two small direct debits a month for several years to Action Aid and Shelter, as a result, so it's not as though it never works, but the free bananas felt altogether less strenuous and more insightful.

This approach felt like a win-win. I felt lucky to have a timely and nutritious piece of fruit 'for free' and since the charity box was just there, it felt entirely natural that I should give something back. It didn't occur to me to think of the wholesale cost of a single banana, or what I might pay in the nearest supermarket, because the part of me that is automatically reciprocal eats the part of me that is consciously rational for breakfast. So before I knew what had happened, my hand had reached into my pocket, found a coin that felt right, and hey ho, everybody seemed happy.

So well done Naomi House for some innovative use of behavioural insight for voluntary giving, and I hope other charities find similar ways to tap into our reciprocity, and no doubt raise significant sums as a result!


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