- Thu, February 24 2011
- Filed under: Fundraising essentials
Today is one of the last posts in my series on the psychology of giving, based on the fascinating book, The Science of Giving. Much of the research in the book focuses on how emotion is so fundamental to giving. This post looks at research by Michaela Huber, Leaf Van Boven and Peter McGraw, into whether you can strip emotion from donation decision making and get people to think more objectively - and what happens when you do. Can you get people to stop identifying with individual victims, stop being spooked by large-scale problems and stats, and stop being ruled by impulse? After all, many people say they want to be objective and focus on the severity of suffering rather than emotional reactions. But can they?
Can you get the average giver to donate in a different way? The researchers tested external and internal interventions aimed at just that.
1. DELAYING THE ASK: The first intervention the researchers tested was to delay the donation, until after initial emotions cooled and a number of causes were considered. This did lessen the “immediacy bias”—ie, the tendency to give to the cause that arouses the most immediate emotion. BUT - interestingly, this served to reduce the influence of emotion WITHOUT increasing the influence of information about the scale or scope of the need. So it didn’t really get people to think more - just to feel less. Not a stellar result - and not such a feasible fundraising practice anyway (staging a delay in the real world would be hard).
2. ASKING PEOPLE TO REFLECT: The researchers next looked into how donation decisions could be affected by getting people to reflect on their decision-making and becoming more mindful of their personal beliefs. People were asked to report their personal beliefs about how donation decisions should be made either before or after making their donation decision. Most agreed the objective scope of the crisis should be at least as important as the emotionality of the crisis. People who were asked to report this BEFORE giving made more objective decisions than those who reported this fact AFTER giving.
The researchers conclude organizations might want to encourage a more mindful donation decision by providing a ‘simple statement’ that causes people to self-reflect right before giving. I’m not sure what that looks like or whether that’s feasible, though. It seems to me an individual organization would not want to do that on a donation page! But a giving portal or site with charity ratings might want to. It all depends on how much you want people to weigh their decision against their own decision processes.