Study unlocks why public appeals may fall flat with some would-be donors

September 28, 2017
Bonnie Simpson, Assistant Professor, Consumer Behaviour at the DAN Department of Management and Organizational Studies, Western University, Canada. Credit: Western University

It has long puzzled fundraisers why, in any appeal, some people will eagerly jump in with the throng while others equally passionate about the cause will reject the same pitch.

Now research led by Western researcher Bonnie Simpson is nearer to figuring out why some people are—and aren't—motivated by public appeals, and how fundraisers might better tailor requests.

A new paper, "When Public Recognition for Charitable Giving Backfires: The Role of Independent Self-Construal" online in the Journal of Consumer Research, says people whose self-definition includes a strong streak of independence will sometimes balk because appeals seem too much like following the crowd.

"They see public appeals as calling them to be like everyone else who gives in a certain way and at a certain time. They see themselves as resisting the influence to act as others might expect them to," said Simpson, Assistant Professor, Consumer Behaviour at Western's DAN Department of Management and Organizational Studies, and lead author of the study. "It's not that they don't want to give. They want to give, but more privately."

The study is co-authored by Katherine White, professor of Marketing and Behavioural Science at the Sauder School of Business at University of British Columbia; and Juliano Laran, Professor of Marketing at the School of Business Administration, University of Miami.

"If asked to donate at a grocery-store checkout, for example, people with a greater sense of independence may decline. By contrast, people who place a high value on interdependence will often respond positively," said Laran: "They think, 'other people are giving, I want to be part of that movement, I want to help.' "

The study asked people a series of questions about how they view themselves and about their giving patterns. And it 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 said.

"By encouraging people to give through their own free will, they are more likely to donate even when public recognition is involved," said White. "The lesson isn't that public or private appeals work better, but that organizations should be willing to change the language of the 'ask' based on interdependence or independence traits among donors, which may ultimately change response rates."

Explore further: Slacktivism: 'Liking' on Facebook may mean less giving

More information: Bonnie Simpson et al, When Public Recognition for Charitable Giving Backfires: The Role of Independent Self-Construal, Journal of Consumer Research (2017). DOI: 10.1093/jcr/ucx101

Related Stories

Rivalry makes people more eco-conscious

June 6, 2014

(Phys.org) —Want to encourage people to do the right thing for the environment? Tell them their rivals are going green, says a new marketing study from the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.

Recommended for you

New paper answers causation conundrum

November 17, 2017

In a new paper published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, SFI Professor Jessica Flack offers a practical answer to one of the most significant, and most confused questions in evolutionary ...

Chance discovery of forgotten 1960s 'preprint' experiment

November 16, 2017

For years, scientists have complained that it can take months or even years for a scientific discovery to be published, because of the slowness of peer review. To cut through this problem, researchers in physics and mathematics ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.