Insights at UBC Sauder

New research unlocks why fundraising appeals fall flat with some would-be donors

Posted 2017-09-29

Why do some people eagerly respond to public appeals for donations, while others reject the same pitch?

New research co-authored by UBC Sauder School of Business professor Katherine White has shed light on why some people are – and aren’t – motivated by public appeals, and how fundraisers might better tailor requests.

“We found that people who see themselves as highly independent donated less in public versus private settings,” said White. “They want to be seen as freely making their own donation decisions, rather than being swayed by peer pressure. It’s not that they don’t want to give, but they just prefer to do it more privately."

For instance, if a customer is asked to donate at the grocery store checkout in front of other customers, those individuals with a greater sense of independence may decline. However, those who place a high value on interdependence, meaning they value depending on others, will often respond positively.

“Those in the interdependent group think, ‘Other people are giving — I want to be part of that movement,’” said lead author Bonnie Simpson, assistant professor at Western University.

The study asked people questions about how they view themselves and about their giving patterns. The researchers found that sometimes the difference between someone’s willingness to give, or not give, was in how the question was worded.

“For individualists who believe they are resistant to others’ influence, the ‘ask’ may need to be phrased differently. This group is more likely to give if we tell them it’s their choice, that not everyone is doing it and that they can be quiet leaders for the cause,” Simpson added.

The lesson is not that public or private appeals work better — but that organizations willing to change the language of the “ask” based on interdependence or independence traits among donors may also change response rates.

The study, “When Public Recognition for Charitable Giving Backfires: The Role of Independent Self-Construal” was co-authored by Western University assistant professor Bonnie Simpson and University of Miami professor Juliano Laran. The study was published online this week in the Journal of Consumer Research.