Researchers have found that the wealthy and less wealthy have different reasons for giving to charity.
Surprisingly, scientists are actually not sure about why people donate to the different kinds of charities out there. Some say that people donate because of genuine generosity and a desire to help others. Others, meanwhile, say that people donate to charity so they can feel good about themselves—which may actually not be that far from the truth.
It turns out that wealth doesn't necessarily determine charitable behavior. It's not what we have or don't have, it's how we see ourselves that influences whether or not we decide to give to charity. If a charitable request will benefit the way we see ourselves, researchers say that we'll be more likely to be amenable to it.
Many people have the intention to donate to charity, but not all of them follow through. Thus, what kinds of charity requests will get people to follow through on donating?
A new study now tells us that we feel more motivated to donate to charity when the request touches upon our self-image. What kinds of requests, therefore, appeal to whom?
The researchers studied how people behaved when they visited the website for an organization called The Life You Can Save. The websites showcases charities that aim to end extreme poverty around the world. Visitors to the site had the option of answering a survey and getting a complimentary book in return.
185 visitors to the site took part in the survey and thus took part in the study. 58% of the respondents were female. All of the respondents had to indicate their age, gender, ethnicity, and household income.
The respondents then read one or the other of two appeals for donations. Half of the participants received an appeal that presented the request as something that people can fulfill as individuals. The other half received an appeal wherein the request was communal, as in something that people can do together.
After the survey, the respondents had the option of donating and giving to charity right then. Wealthier respondents—those with an income of $90,000 or higher—were more likely to donate if they received an appeal that spoke about what people can do individually to eradicate poverty. Participants who earned less than $40,000 were more amenable to requests that involved communal effort.
Gender, age, and ethnicity did not seem to make a difference in the results. Why, however, were the results like that?
Research has shown that wealthier people tend to cultivate a sense of individuality greater than those less wealthy. Other research has also shown that less wealthy people are more likely to see themselves as part of a social whole, probably because they tend to rely more on others.
Thus, wealthier people are more comfortable with giving to charity if it appeals to their sense of individuality and it emphasizes how much an individual can do. Does this mean that charitable organizations should tailor their messages to whichever demographic they prefer? Maybe, maybe not. There's still more research necessary, but this may be what works.
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