Charities can benefit by giving contributors more control over their donations, study finds | News | Notre Dame News
Donations of time and money are essential to the success of nonprofit organizations such as charities and political groups. And while nonprofits generally prefer receiving cash donations, previous research has shown that donor preferences are often quite the opposite: they like giving their time more than they like giving their money. , even when giving time does less good to the cause.
New research from the University of Notre Dame delves into the underlying psychology of this phenomenon, identifying a previously unexplored difference between time and money, which helps explain the preference.
Donors feel more personal control over how their time (versus money) is used, according to “Why are donors more generous with time than with money?” “The Role of Perceived Control Over Donations on Charitable Giving,” forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research by John Costello, assistant professor of marketing at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, with Selin Malkoc of Ohio State University.
The study found that skewed perceptions of control over giving lead to donors’ propensity to give more time than money. The authors also found that if charities can increase people’s sense of control over their giving, this asymmetry can be eliminated.
“We identify several ways to increase the perception of donor control in our article, but one simple approach is to give people choice over how their donation will be used,” said Costello, who studies consumer behavior with an emphasis on the psychological response to marketing communications and prosocial behaviors. “Decades of research in consumer psychology and behavior have revealed that choice is one of the most reliable ways to increase people’s perception of control. We find that this strategy has more impact for monetary donations than for time donations and thus eliminates the time/money asymmetry.
The research involved seven studies with more than 2,700 participants. Some were conducted online while others took place in a behavioral lab.
“Because potential donors feel more personal control over their donations of time, we find that this leads them to be more likely to agree to donate and to give in greater amounts,” Costello said. “We find support for this prediction in a number of studies through the measurement and manipulation of perceived control, while ruling out a variety of alternative explanations.”
That donors prefer to give time rather than money has surprised researchers, given the consensus among scholars and practitioners that giving time is less effective for both the giver and the recipient.
“I think a lot of people assume that donation decisions are almost exclusively driven by purely altruistic motives,” Costello said, “for example, how much their contribution helps the cause. As a key motivation, our work shows that donation decisions are also influenced by the donor’s own psychological needs, in particular the desire to feel in control of their actions.
While previous work has revealed a general preference for giving time, this study is the first to identify several situations where this is not the case. Notably, the preference for donating time can be eliminated when donors have a choice of how their donation will be used.
“On the other hand,” Costello said, “we also find that donors will be much less interested in giving their time and will no longer prefer it to money when they expect the charity to charity has complete control over how their time will be used.”
Researchers have designed and tested several strategies that can be used by nonprofit organizations to generate donations more effectively. “Charities may need to consider different strategies when asking for time rather than money,” Costello advised. “Previous work has shown that giving donors choice over how their gift is used can increase giving. However, one of our studies shows that while this is true for monetary donations, it has much less impact for time donations.
According to Costello, adopting changes in marketing language can also be used to increase perceived control and cash donations, which typically lag behind time. “We find that asking donors to ‘spend’ their money rather than ‘donate’ their money during appeals for donations leads to a greater perception of control over that donation,” Costello explained. “While ‘give’ is more commonly used by genuine charities, we find that ‘spend’ is more effective in generating monetary donations.
“When it comes to volunteering, charities certainly have to impose some restrictions,” he added. “However, our findings suggest that organizations wishing to increase volunteerism should take every possible step to minimize donors feeling that their donated time is being controlled by outside forces.”
Contact: John Costello, 574-631-5171, [email protected]