The psychology of resource sharing - Generocity Philly


May 4, 2016 12:51 pm

The psychology of resource sharing

There are seven big psychological barriers to nonprofit collaboration, according to Dr. Syon Bhanot of Swarthmore College.

Syon Bhanot at the Streamlining Social Good symposium.

(Photo by Albert Yee)

Prosocial behavior — behavior that benefits society in some way, such as volunteering or sharing with others — is encouraged from the time we’re in preschool. But it’s especially useful when seeking to answer the tricky question of how to encourage cooperation between nonprofits

Syon Bhanot, a professor of economics at Swarthmore College, has spent his career studying such behavior. He presented on the best methods for framing collaborative interactions for positive results at The Nonprofit Centers Network‘s Streamlining Social Good symposium, a gathering of nonprofit leaders from across the country, last week. 

There are challenges to collaboration, though, Bhanot explained.

Challenge 1

Sometimes, we need psychological encouragement to cooperate with other. That encouragement can come about in a few different ways, such as repeat interactions (because the more we see someone, the higher the stakes are for our reputations); reciprocity (because we’re more likely to be cooperative with others if they’ve been cooperative with us in the past); and observability and social rewards (because we want to look ethically good when others are watching).

Challenge 2

Humans tend to value the now more than the later. But with that present bias, we make things easier on ourselves in the short-term at the expense of long-term goals. It might feel great now to spend an entire day cleaning out your inbox, but looking back, how much will you have really accomplished by spending eight hours responding to emails? We need to set aside time for planning for the future as well as getting things done immediately.

Challenge 3

The Endowment Effect happens when people mentally increase the worth of things they’ve acquired beyond what they’re actually worth. Then there’s its partner in crime, the Ikea Effect: When you build something yourself, you tend to overvalue it at your own expense. And then there’s their friend Sunk Cost Fallacy, in which people allow their past effort to affect their futures (i.e. you put 10 years into a failing relationship, but figure you might as well stick it out because you’ve already gotten this far).

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Challenge 4

We tend to be generally overconfident in our ability to control events, but this tendency shows up most when our emotions are tied to the task at hand, and in familiar stressful situations.

Challenge 5

Going along with challenge four: When our sense of identity hangs in the balance, we might overestimate our control over, say, our organization’s social impact, because that metric matters the most to us.

Challenge 6

In a sick twist, the pain from loss hits us harder than the pleasure from gain. That loss aversion could lead to an excess fear of downsizing your organization in the wake of collaboration, for instance.

Challenge 7

We tend to stick to the status quo in most situations. (People are more likely to give consent to organ donation when they need to actively opt out of doing so, rather than opt in.) An over-resistance to change, however, can lead to institutional inertia. To fight that urge, take incremental steps within your organization to build trust and experience with newness.

Beyond these challenges lies hope, Bhanot said: The more experience we have dealing with them, the better we get at killing our darlings. And there’s something to be said for letting go of what’s not working in favor of discovering what is.


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