The Truths Behind Why People Give
Why do people give? It's the question we all really, really want to answer: Why do people give, and how do we get them to give more? OK, so maybe that's two questions. But if you're a fundraiser, the reason you ask the first question is that you absolutely must answer the second. It's your job.
I've spent the past six months reading every study I could find that seeks to answer these questions. Many of them were in the excellent compendium of research studies titled "The Science of Giving," produced by the Society for Judgment and Decision Making.
After reflecting on what a lot of smart people have documented, I think the answers come down to several essential truths. (Note: All of the researchers mentioned here are referenced in the book.)
TRUTH No. 1
Giving is mostly emotional and irrational
The right brain tends to rule the left in giving, and people donate out of feeling more than thinking. In fact, if you get people to stop and think, they tend to give less.
For example, one group of researchers tried different ways of asking for donations to help sick children. These researchers wanted to see just how our feelings about ourselves and our empathy for others affect the decision to give — and how much those factors influence the amounts we give. They put the heart against the head by having people focus on how they felt about sick children versus having them calculate the value of the children's lives.
Researchers Stephan Dickert, Namika Sagara and Paul Slovic found that donor emotion definitely ruled. The best predictor of the decision to donate anything at all was how the participants were feeling about themselves — for example, a desire to make themselves feel better or avoid regret about not donating. When they heard about the pain or need of sick children, they wanted to leave those negative feelings behind by making donations.