The Psychology Behind Giving to the Community Given the current financial crisis, fund raising is critical to sustain valuable services and serve clients in need. A new research effort provides suggestions on how organizations can improve community participation.

People who see the “glass as half empty” may be more willing to contribute to a common goal if they already identify with it, say the researchers.

Researchers discovered that individuals who already care a lot (highly identify) with a cause are more likely to financially support the cause if a solicitation is framed by how much is still needed (for example, “we still need $50,000 to reach our goal”).

However, if individuals care very little prior to a solicitation (low identify), they are more likely to contribute if they knew how much of the goal had already been met (for example, “we’ve raised $50,000 toward our goal”).

Psychologists Dr. Marlone Henderson, University of Texas, and co-authors Drs. Ayelet Fishbach, University of Chicago, and Minjung Koo, Sungkyunkwan University, Korea, will publish their findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

“We believe our findings offer organizations several strategies to increase volunteering and donations,” says Henderson.

“Our findings also imply that during times when prior contributions or donations by others are particularly salient in the public eye, organizations may take the opportunity to promote philanthropy by approaching those who identify less with the beneficiaries or with the helping group, thereby expanding their circle of potential donors.”

The researchers performed five studies measuring contributions to goals centered on idea generation and helping victims of various disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti, wildfires in Southern California and riots in Kenya.

Possible contributions to these causes include engaging in social movements, pledging to charity, volunteering for community outreach programs and generating ideas in team meetings.

For one of the studies, a field experiment was done in cooperation with the South Korean office of Compassion International, a Christian child-sponsoring organization, shortly after the 2007-08 Kenyan riots.

The study randomly selected 973 people who received a letter that either read, “…we have successfully raised 5,200,000 won (the Korean monetary unit)” or “…we need another 4,800,000 won.”

When the letter highlighted what had already been collected to low identifiers, the contribution amount more than doubled from 1,619.43 won compared to 5,042.92 won.

When the amount still needed was highlighted to high identifiers, donations increased from 1,847.39 won compared to 3,265.31 won.

“People ask themselves one of two questions when deciding whether to invest in one personal goal versus another,” said Henderson.

In essence, the decision to contribute to a cause depends on whether an individual values the goal as being worthy — in which case people may want to jump onboard and contribute; or, is the effort progressing at a pace that is sufficient — if it is not, then it may be time to contribute so that an effort an individual cares about doesn’t fail.

Source: University of Texas – Austin