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Getting Past “No”

March 31st, 2010 Posted in Fundraising

why people don’t give and how you can break through the barriers

Research has pinpointed three reasons why caring people don’t give, says Joanne Fritz on Fortunately, there are ways to counter those baffling thought patterns that even the most empathic people experience when considering whether to donate.

Diffusion of responsibility

You might call this the “bystander effect”: the assumption that someone else will do what needs to be done. Fritz cites an experiment where 70 per cent of participants who were alone responded with help to sounds of distress from another room. But when two participants were together, their response rate plummeted – in one case to a mere 7%.

Sense of fairness

Fritz describes research showing that humans will go against their best interests if the situation violates their sense of fairness. In an experimental game, two players knew that one of them would be given a sum of money to divide with the second player. If the second person refused the offer, then neither player got anything. When receivers felt that the first person’s offer was unfair, they often refused it, even though their refusal meant no one got anything.

“In the case of charitable giving, a donor’s altruism may be depressed if he feels that other people are not doing their share,” Fritz concludes. “It doesn’t seem fair to give, say, 10% of your income to charity if others are giving less or nothing.”


Even thinking about money can also depress altruism – bad news for fundraisers! An experimental group that was prompted to think about money before moving on to other tasks displayed much more self-sufficient behaviour than the control group. They often took longer to ask for help, sat further apart when told to move into conversational groups, chose solitary recreation, helped others less, and gave less when asked to contribute their honoraria to a good cause.

What to do

Fundraisers need to be aware of these pitfalls of human nature. Fritz offers several tips to forestall their influence.

   • Use powerful images and focus on one victim instead of several.
   • Help create a feeling of community and fairness.
   • Show the interconnection between ourselves and people thousands of miles away.
   • Help donors understand that their gift is not just a “drop in the bucket.”
   • Tell compelling personal stories.
   • Offer ways to help that don’t involve just giving money.

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