Personal connections impact philanthropy

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Personal connections with a charity are important to people who offer philanthropy, new research from UT and other universities confirms.

UT assistant psychology professor Marlone Henderson and researchers from the University of Chicago and Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea conducted five studies of 1462 people that Henderson said would be published in the “Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.” The studies manipulated audience identification by describing the beneficiaries of a shared goal in distancing terms such as “they” or “them” or in close terms such as “we” and “us.”

When people identified less with a cause, they were more motivated by appeals that focused on what had already been
accomplished.

“Individuals who think of the beneficiaries in psychologically distant terms contribute more when you can find a way to signal to them that the charity’s cause is important,” Henderson said in an email. “When you make people focus on what other people have already contributed versus what’s still missing, people feel like the cause is more important and thus feel more motivated to give.”

By contrast, people who identified more with a cause were better persuaded by appeals focused on what the group needed to meet its goal. Henderson said individuals who identify with a cause do not need to be persuaded of its importance but that it needs support.

Henderson said the research could help philanthropic groups develop new strategies to increase donors and contributions and therefore benefit society.

“In the United States and abroad, there have been recent calls by policy makers for citizens to engage in more philanthropy,” he said. “Such increased engagement in philanthropy would likely result in benefits at both the personal and social level, as charitable giving and volunteering have been linked to better health as well as a better economy.”

Peter Frumkin, director of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said the research could help nonprofits as they face fewer donations due to a difficult economy.

“The study points at least one part of the strategy during tough times is to go back to your loyal donors, because you’re kind of emphasizing the missing pieces that are required,” he said.

Frumkin said nonprofits could also increase fundraising by getting people involved in the organization in other ways before soliciting money for donations.

Julia Gasc, the college director of Best Buddies at UT, said the research is in line with her experiences and that she will consider the research in future attempts to recruit people or solicit donations to the organization.

“Our accomplishments and what we’re trying to do as an organization are a big part of recruiting people who just aren’t really interested or haven’t had any kind of experience with Best Buddies,” Gasc said. 

Printed on 07/18/2011 as:Philanthropic study may help nonprofits with scarce funding