Charities looking for donations this season should frame their appeals with concrete messages as opposed to broader, more abstract ideas. But they should take the opposite tack when seeking volunteers, according to new research from UBC’s Sauder School of Business.
“You’re more likely to get cash donations if you spell out the specific details associated with helping, such as providing funding for winter clothes for Syrian refugees, rather than making more abstract statements such as ‘help refugees in need,’” said study author and professor Katherine White.
She and her co-researcher found that people think of time abstractly, and money concretely, which then guides how they choose to spend it.
“We found people want to spend their time contributing to something bigger, but when they donate money they want to know exactly where their money will be going,” she said.
In a series of five studies with 612 participants, the researchers initially asked people about donating money or volunteering time and then gauged whether they were more persuaded by the specific or broad goals of the cause. They also asked study participants to make actual donations or commitments to volunteer, after giving them either concrete or abstract appeals.
But if a charity really wants donations of money to support broader goals, so that not all of their funds are locked into specific causes, White says there are ways to make people think of money more abstractly, such as by focusing on credit cards instead of cash.
That’s because if people feel that money is abundant, as they often do with credit cards, they’ll think of it more abstractly, and are more likely to donate to support a broader cause.
Researchers also found that when they asked people to consider their position of relative advantage compared to others, they were primed to think of money as being abundant and were more likely to donate to a cause framed in abstract terms, for example “address hunger” as opposed to a cause framed in specific terms such as “serve a meal”.
The study, “How Construals of Money versus Time Impact Consumer Charitable Giving,” by Rhiannon MacDonnell and Katherine White, is in the December 2015 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
Also by Prof. White: