- Mon, January 17 2011
- Filed under: Fundraising essentials
This is my seventh post on the fascinating book, The Science of Giving, which covers a range of seminal studies about giving psychology. This latest installment in my “Cliffs Notes” version of the book looks at what the norm of self-interest means for nonprofit marketing and fundraising folks.
How much do personal connections to a cause influence giving? That’s the question that Rebecca Ratner, Min Zhao and Jennifer Clarke ask - and seek to answer - in their research. They examine evidence for a “norm of self interest,” which means people expect that other people’s support for a cause is guided by a personal stake. Think of Michael J. Fox and his support of research on Parkinson’s disease or Cicely Tyson’s anti-smoking advocacy after her sister died of lung cancer. When people have a personal connection to a cause (or know someone who does), that can lead them - and others - to be more supportive. The researchers delved into the nuances of the norm of self-interest - and here is what they found.
1. People are more deferential to advocates of a cause who have a clear stake in that cause. People feel guilty and disrespectful turning away from someone with a clear self-interest in their position. Advocates for a cause are granted special standing to ask for action if they have that self-interest. If they don’t, the deference disappears.
In one study, research subjects were told a college student had either a parent who suffered a heart attack or a parent who had been diagnosed with cancer. When the student graduated, it was said that person would work for the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society (some people got a matched scenario and some did not). Research subjects were asked how they would react if the student invited them to a volunteer event. When the event was directly related to the student’s personal experience, they were sympathetic and said they would have a hard time saying no. When the event was not (ie, the student who supposedly had a parent who suffered a heart attack was advocating for the Cancer Society), the effect was not the same.
Moreover, people were more likely to evaluate a volunteer more favorably if that volunteer had a personal experience or connection to the cause. A volunteer without that connection was seen less favorably - even if that volunteer was a steady and dedicated volunteer over time. The researchers found people even went so far as to discourage volunteers without clear personal connections to a cause.
Clearly, if a spokesperson or advocate has a personal connection to a cause, they should make it explicit. That will have a big favorable effect on reactions to the message.
2. But be careful about assuming people who lack a personal connection won’t give. They will often support someone else who has a personal connection—if they feel welcomed and included in the cause. So writing off people without clear self-interest by narrow language is not a good idea. Research showed that framing a cause in an inclusive way had a positive effect. For example, a protest against cutting funding for a gender-specific disease garnered more support when it was framed “Princeton Men and Women Opposed to Proposition 174” than when it was “Princeton Opponents of Proposition 174.”
The researchers recommend: “Show encouragement and appreciation for those who do not have a clear personal connection to the cause but want to get involved.”
The bottom line - How much do personal connections to a cause influence giving? A lot. So highlight them - but in a way that is welcoming and inclusive of everyone else.