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Looking Good, Doing Good

Looking Good, Doing Good In today’s economy, it’s increasingly difficult to elicit donations for charitable causes — but new research can provide fundraising organizations with a potent tool.

The new technique, termed “image motivation,” is the positive recognition a giver gets from other members of the community. The study, published in American Economic Review, can help organizations understand how to elicit maximum donor response in today’s tough times.

“Charitable giving is a much greater sacrifice now than it was at this time last year. Budgets are tighter for everyone, so giving is likely to have greater image value,” says Dr. Anat Bracha of the Eitan Berglas School of Economics at Tel Aviv University.

That’s why it can be important for organizations to emphasize the image benefits of charitable giving. But she cautions that if any other main motivators for giving collide with image motivation, they may have a “crowding-out” effect.

Reputation Is Everything

Dr. Bracha’s research focused on the effects of participating in charitable events in two settings — one public, one private. Her study also examined two kinds of motivators — image and financial — and was able to show a negative interaction between monetary incentives and image, the thesis she and her colleagues were testing.

In one experiment in the gym at MIT, the study created a “Biking for Charity” scenario in which participants were invited to bike for ten minutes to earn money for a charitable cause based on the effort they exerted. Some were also paid for their participation.

“We had one group do it in public, and one in private,” says Dr. Bracha. “The ‘public sphere’ was in the main room of the gym, and the ‘private sphere’ was on the third floor, in its own room. What we demonstrated was that giving was affected by how visible the participation was. The more public, the greater the image boost, and the greater the contribution.”

When monetary incentives were introduced, however, they were more effective in private than in public. “Monetary and image motivations clashed,” Dr. Bracha explains.

In the public sphere, people exerted the same level of effort on their stationary bikes with or without compensation, aware that positive social acclaim might be undermined if viewers were aware of their personal monetary gain. In the private room, where participants did not have to contend with social judgment, they biked more miles on average when they were paid to do so.

The Public Value of Personal Sacrifice

Of course, a more positive image in the eyes of the community requires greater visibility in that community. Dr. Bracha points to the Lance Armstrong Foundation Live Strong campaign as an example, in which donors are visibly recognizable by unique wristbands. Websites that acknowledge donors by name serve to have the same effect.

“This is a very public thing — everyone sees you when you participate,” she says.

Dr. Bracha’s research was done in conjunction with Dr. Stephan Meier of Columbia Business School and Dr. Dan Ariely of Duke University.

Source: Tel Aviv University

Looking Good, Doing Good

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Looking Good, Doing Good. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 22, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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