The next time you’re looking to raise some money, choose your words carefully. A recent study by a collaboration between Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia has shown that the wealthy are willing to donate more money if they are prompted with agentic appeals for donations – that is, appeals to individual action – rather than communal.

Drawing on previous research on the psychology of wealthy people, the researchers tested the hypothesis that wealthy individuals will act more charitably if they feel a greater sense of agency or control. Using a pool of alumni from an elite business school with annual incomes over $90K, the researchers sent out two types of donation solicitations. While the bulk of the two solicitations remained the same, one contained an ‘agentic’ appeal for one person to come forward and take action and the other a communal appeal for a community to come together and support a common goal. While the result may seem intuitive, you may find the magnitude quite shocking. Solicitations using the agentic phrasing received an 82% increase in donation amount when compared to the communal phrasing. Interestingly, the change in messages did not cause any difference in the number of people who donated, only the donation size.

The exact mechanism of this change in charitable behavior remains up for debate, but the researchers suggest a well established psychological phenomenon called diffusion of responsibility as one possibility – when the known presence of others decreases the probability of any one individual to act. Regardless, this study offers useful insight for fundraising campaigns looking to trigger wealthy donors into coughing up bigger donations.

Managing Correspondent: Trevor Haynes

Press Article: Rich people found to be more charitable if given a sense of control

Original Publication: Agentic appeals increase charitable giving in an affluent sample of donors

15 thoughts on “With Great Responsibility Comes Great Charity

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