The Chronicle of Philanthropy pointed to a report by The Economist on research showing that public recognition may motivate donors to give bigger gifts.
Dan Ariely of Duke University, Anat Bracha of Tel Aviv University, and Stephan Meier of Columbia University sought, through experiments, to test the importance of image motivation, as well as to gain insights into how different motivating factors interact. Their results, which they report in a new paper, suggest that image motivation matters a lot, at least in the laboratory.
I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the conclusions drawn here. It seems to suggest nonprofits should do more public exposure of gifts to get donors to give more. It feels downright manipulative.
I’m a purist and would love to believe that donors give altruistically. But even I check donor lists to see where my name lines up with people I know. And as fundraisers, I think it’s important to keep informed on this research and keep wrestling with how it should or shouldn’t impact our work.
Would you help me? Read the article and read “What Makes People Give?” in last March’s New York Times. (The NYT’s piece is quite long but good.)
Then use the comments section here to let me know what you think.
- Is this research helpful or does it harm our field?
- Will it lead to donor manipulation?
- Or will it simply help us care for the friends of our nonprofits more in keeping with how they really want to be cared for?
Marc, I am bothered and challenged by this. Because I work for a church, I am especially confounded. We have spent a lot of time taking DOWN plaques because we believe that it is counterproductive to spiritual growth to “shout from the mountaintops” about people’s gifts. At the same time, they are giving other places with GIANT recognitions. This is a dilemma I struggle with every day.
Thanks Anne. That’s so true. I remember pastoring a church and getting a huge gift in the offering. My fundraising experience told me to pick up the phone and thank the donor. My pastoral experience cautioned me that she saw her gift as a gift to God, not our church.
P.S. I ended up calling and saying, “Congratulations!!” She laughed and said, “What for.” To which I replied, “I don’t know. But by the size of the gift in yesterday’s offering, I figure there must be something pretty big going on!” 🙂
Ultimately, people give because of the way it makes them feel, so if donors feel even *better* seeing their names on a plaque, where’s the harm?
Of course, we should always consider the norms of the group — if members of your church frown on public recognition, it’s probably not the right thing to do.
Marc – I’m a huge believer in any work that can be done to better our understanding of people on a human level. There are many types of people in the beautiful world of ours. And we have to work as hard as humanly possible to understand them so that more money can be driven to causes that make the world a better place.
Our work in the not-for-profit sector has shown that how donors are treated when they make a gift makes a HUGE difference in subsequent gifts. We’ve also found that the best way to figure out how to make this difference is to ask them how they want to be “thanked”. For some, it IS a huge sign on the facade of a building, or a plaque on a wall. For others, it might be having dinner with the doctor doing the work they are funding. I think at the most fundamental level, we have to realize it is about “them”, and not about “us”.
Lastly, to beat an already dead horse: if we can learn one thing about the Obama campaign, it’s that when you turn “your story” into “their story”, that’s when the magic happens.
I feel much more comfortable with this if it’s about helping us thank donors in the way they want to be thanked. THAT I can support!
Having read the original article in the Economist I find the conclusions entirely believable. While we want to believe the best of people, the general public has a “what’s in it for me” attitude. The authors, Ariely and Bracha, are merely reporting the results of their research. Their research does answer one age-old question, “if giving is altruistically motivated, why don’t more people give anonymously?” Yes, the results are bothersome. Yes, I would rather think that we all would be motivated to give out of the goodness of our hearts. But is that reality? Apparantly not.