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Asking for donations publicly not always ideal: UBC study

Public recognition decreased donations by 43% in people who identified themselves as independent.

A B.C. Wildfire Service firefighter uses a torch to ignite dry brush while conducting a controlled burn to help prevent the Finlay Creek wildfire from spreading near Peachland, B.C., on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

DARRYL DYCK / The Canadian Press

A B.C. Wildfire Service firefighter uses a torch to ignite dry brush while conducting a controlled burn to help prevent the Finlay Creek wildfire from spreading near Peachland, B.C., on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Charities can encourage potential donors to give more if they tailor their ask for help just right, according to a new UBC study.

The plight of those affected by wildfires, hurricanes, and humanitarian crises may tug on people’s heart strings but appealing for donations in a public way can backfire if charities aren't careful, says marketing and behavioural-science professor, Kate White.

“Independent people actually have a negative reaction – they are less likely to donate if a public situation is created, or if there is some kind of public recognition for donating.”

Examples of publicized asks for donations include prompts at the till or informing people their name will be posted on a donor wall.

In fact, the element of public recognition decreased donations by 43 per cent for people who reported being more independent, according to White. She explained that those potential donors wanted to feel as though they made the decision to give without being pressured into it.

But those who reported being more interdependent – or in other words, more community-minded – donated 41 per cent more when there was public recognition for their good deed.

White says charities can tailor their message depending on where they are asking people for donations. 

“If you know it’s going to be a public giving situation, you can activate a sense of interdependence.”

Signs that read ‘we together can make a difference,’ or ‘join us’ can draw out feelings of interdependence in people, even in those who identify themselves as independent, she said. 

That’s because people sit on a spectrum, with complete independence on one side and complete interdependence on the other.

“You can remind people to be more independent or you can remind them about interdependence,” she said.

For instance, charities asking for donations online could benefit from emphasizing people’s choice in whether or not they want to help.

“If it is a private situation, and no one will be observing, then it makes sense to let people think more independently,” said White.

“You can say, ‘it’s your choice, you choose.’”

White says she will continue her research on people’s behaviour around donating by looking at what happens when charities ask for donations multiple times.

“For some people there’s this effect of if I did it last time I want to do it consistently so I’ll do it again. But other people are like, I just did this last time, I’m not going to again.”

About 1,600 people participated in a series of six studies for the paper, co-authored by by Western University assistant professor Bonnie Simpson and University of Miami professor Juliano Laran. It was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
 

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