Fri, June 29 2007
Filed under: Fundraising essentials •
By Jono Smith
Feelings, not analytical thinking, drive donations. According to a new study (PDF link) conducted by Deborah Small, a Wharton marketing professor, and colleagues George Loewenstein & Paul Slovic, if organizations want to raise money for a charitable cause, it is far better to appeal to the heart than to the head.
One pitch for charity described the needs of Rokia, a young girl in Africa who is desperately poor and faces starvation. Another pitch talks about food shortages affecting more than three million children, many of whom are homeless. Which pitch is more effective? Not surprisingly, it’s the first, but Wharton marketing professor Deborah Small and two co-authors delve deeper into the issue of sympathy and how it relates to charitable giving. Their paper is titled, “Sympathy and Callousness: The Impact of Deliberative Thought on Donations to Identifiable and Statistical Victims.”
That people would want to give money to identifiable victims like Rokia rather than unnamed famine victims may not seem all that surprising. But Small and her colleagues, in a series of field experiments, delved deeper into the issue of sympathy and how it relates to charitable giving. The researchers found that if people are presented with a personal case of an identifiable victim along with statistical data about similar victims caught up in a larger pattern of illness, hunger or neglect, overall donations actually decline. In addition, they found that if people are told about the inconsistent levels of sympathy evoked by identifiable and statistical victims—the “identifiable victim effect,” in the words of the researchers—people reduce their giving to identifiable victims but do not increase their giving to statistical victims.