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There Really Is a Science to Giving

For years and years, behavioral scientists have been wondering why people give money to charities.

The explanations for nonprofit giving fall into three


  1. Altruistic- for the social good it does;

  2. Not quite so altruistic – the good feelings I have when I know I have made a difference;

  3. No altruism at all – to show off how generous a person I am to my friends.

Most people support organizations in one way or another. Many say they intend to leave a gift to a charity in their will but never get around to doing it. Our research shows that if the writer of the will simply reminds someone if they would like to get a will started, the person being asked is much more likely to consider it and the chances of a donation double.

It’s Hearts, not Heads

Many people know that they should be donating to organizations that have the greatest impact, but highest impact implies facts and figures which are less “appealing” than stories.

For years, we’ve been talking and writing about people being much more responsive to appeals that feature one identifiable beneficiary over any statistic about how big of a problem the nonprofit is trying to solve.

There’s also evidence that advertising which emphasizes how great a job your organization is doing is NOT effective in gaining more support. In fact, there’s even evidence that this sort of “bragging” can have a negative effect on future fundraising pleas.

In other words, when it comes to fundraising, it’s the heart, not the head that rules.

Finally, according to behavioral scientists, it’s a range of factors that influence donations and also influence how long donors will keep giving. Research has also revealed that spending money on others actually makes the donor happier than when he spends it on himself.

In a future blog, we’ll talk about how giving to others can make the giver healthier too.

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