- Tue, December 27 2011
- Filed under: Fundraising essentials
A fascinating new study of 17,000 people passing the Salvation Army’s holiday bell-ringers has some very important findings for you and me.*
Here’s how it went. Red Kettle solicitors stood at one or both of two main entrances to a supermarket in suburban Boston, making it easy or difficult for them to be avoided. The other variable was how the solicitors behaved. In some cases, they were silent. In others, they said to passersby, “Hi, how are you? Merry Christmas. Please give today.”
The researchers - James Andreoni, Justin M. Rao and Hannah Trachtman - found the following.
1. Shoppers didn’t avoid bell ringers who said nothing - and a tiny fraction appeared to seek out the solicitor by walking a few paces in order to give.
2. When the solicitors greeted shoppers and asked for a gift, over 30 percent of shoppers avoided the ask, BUT the average donations per giver rose a staggering 75%!
The researchers ask why the “ask” is so powerful, and they raise the possibility of some pressure that comes from within the donor:
The main psychological feature implicated here is empathy. Just as the smell of freshly baked bread can make it hard for a dieter to resist eating, stimulating one’s empathy through a direct and vocal ask can create a temptation to be generous that is difficult for humans to resist… We feel our results usefully shift the discussion of altruism, fundraising, and charitable giving to focus on the act of asking itself as the linchpin to understanding both the costs and benefits of the giving interaction.
It’s all about the ask, folks. It’s hard for people to resist their generous impulses, and that is something to celebrate about our humanity.
*Thanks to Roger Dooley, who pointed me to this study and blogged about it here.