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Why Do We Give Money to Charity?

Last week we looked at the psychology of giving – This week we’re delving into the behavioural science behind why we give money to charity.

Researchers have investigated why people donate to charitable causes, and what can be done to encourage people to give more often.

Last week we focused on the psychology behind empathy-induced altruism, but there are in fact 3 main types of givers:

Purely altruistic – The Phoebe’s among us, if you read our blog last week. These people donate because they value the social good done by the charity they have chosen.

Impurely altruistic – The softer Joey on the scale. These people donate because they assign value to the act of contributing to the social good of the charity.

Not-at-all Altruistic – The hardcore Joey’s; There is absolutely no such thing as selfless good deeds! These people donate purely to look good/ rich in front of friends, peers, colleagues or potential love interests. It’s all in it for them.

But are the motives behind each of these type of potential donor strong enough to get them to donate in the first place, give a figure that’s more than the minimum they can afford, and then keep them giving regularly?

Many people have the want to donate, but is that enough? The majority of people do support charities in some way, but many of us struggle to make donations as often as we believe that we should. One example is giving gifts in wills – Most people would agree to doing this, but don’t actually take action to organise it. Research shows however, that if the will-writer just asks the question – would you like to make a donation – then they are likely to seriously consider it, and thus the rate of donation doubles.  

Hearts over heads

We touched on this last week – Although people generally believe that they should donate to the causes that have the highest impact (almost common sense, no?) we are actually more motivated to give when presented with narratives rather than statistics. Facts and figures may show the crux of the issue, but people are more engaged by a story involving one particular beneficiary – This is supported by a series of experiments.

Evidence from research also suggests that charity advertising focusing on their effectiveness did not increase giving, and occasionally even caused the opposite. The bottom line seems to be that our hearts rule our heads – Appeal to the heart, engage an empathy driven response, and then provide facts and figures when someone is already engaged and ready to donate to your cause.

Influenced by others

Research in this area also sheds light on how giving charitably is very much a social act, which would be particularly true of the not-so-altruistic group of donors outlined above. In a particular study where participants were asked for donations to their university, it found that they gave significantly more if they were asked by a former roommate.

Of course, we can’t talk about the social aspect of giving without discussing online methods and social media. For example, the digital donations platform JustGiving allows donors to make their donation amount public. Researchers discovered that donors who see a large donation made by the donor before them, are more likely to make a larger donation too.  

And it’s not just friends, family and peers that can influence whether we donate or not – Celebrities can also have an effect on what we donate to. If a big name is attached to a match-funding campaign rather than just an ‘anonymous donor’ then it’s more likely to increase donations, just like when celebrity supporters of particular charities can significantly boost fundraising – especially among people who have donated to that charity before.  

With the rise of social media comes a whole new platform for celebrities, public figures and influencers to share information directly with their followers. Things like Instagram stories make it easier than ever to share appeals – A very recent example was the terrible bushfires in Australia that prompted mass sharing of charity funds that were directly helping those in need. This is where social media and the internet can really get a campaign to go global, engaging people’s hearts and sparking donations around the world. Which brings us to our next point…

Giving is contagious

It’s a bit like smiling – If someone smiles at you, it’s rather hard not to feel the urge to smile back. Sometimes a passing stranger, more often a friend or family member. They smile, you smile. You see someone else give something, and you feel compelled to do the same. A little bit of encouragement from an important person in your life, and suddenly those donation decisions have been made.

We’ve focused a lot on monetary donations, but that’s not the only thing you can give. What about your time? Those who have volunteered their time before, were found to be more likely to do so again. More so than people who hadn’t volunteered before. Which makes a lot of sense for social groups such as Round Table organisations where people can volunteer their time whilst spending time with new friends and networking with peers.

This is a broad topic and we’ve only touched on a few behavioural scientific factors that impact our donation decisions. The important thing is that this knowledge can be hugely beneficial to charitable causes when developing their fundraising strategy and designing campaigns.

The other great news is for donors themselves – Research has shown that spending money on others, including giving charitably, makes people happier than when we spend it on ourselves. And not only can it make us happier, it can also make us healthier too – But more on that next week!

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