The Science of Generosity

The Science of Generosity

by Bill High

An April 2015 Chronicle of Philanthropy cited a growing field related to a “growing cadre of behavioral economists, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists…” etc are learning about giving and donors.

There are some ongoing and interesting findings:

  1. researchers found that people base their giving on how they feel after they’ve made their gift—notwithstanding the organizations that bombard their donors with appeals based in logic;
  1. charities try to earn back “lapsed donors” yet the research shows it is largely futile;
  1. some non-profits think that giving a small trinket will increase the response rate (but it doesn’t);
  1. donors are 80% more likely to give if they discover that administrative costs are already covered;
  1. researchers at the University of Chicago found that door-to-door campaigns offering a chance to win a prize raised more money;
  1. charities who show a picture of their intended beneficiaries receive more in donations (i.e., a picture of a child)

But there’s more—it’s actually a physical response.  Donors who give experience a hormonal release.  People give based upon emotion.  And those emotions produce a positive hormonal response. Sarina Saturn found that oxytocin can increase charitable behavior and sway people towards generous acts.

There’s more research coming.  But it continues to show the benefits of living a generous life, and it will also show how nonprofits can be better at fundraising instead of arm twisting!

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Published November 29, 2016

Topics: Generosity


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