Even One Unsaved Victim Can Dampen Donor Motivation
Many fundraisers are familiar with the concept that people are more motivated to donate to a cause when they are presented with information about one victim instead of many. It is thought that most people feel that their contributions will not make a difference when faced with large problems and many victims, and that donors become demotivated if they experience negative feelings about victims that they are unable to help.
This article, published in 2014, tested this theory with situations involving small numbers of victims. They wanted to see if donors would be demotivated to give financially due to experiencing negative feelings about even one or two victims who they were unable to help. The researchers carried out six closely-related studies and made several interesting findings:
- In two studies, participants who were told that their gifts would go to one child were significantly more willing to donate and had more positive feelings about donating than those who were told that their gifts would help one child but not another.
- If participants were told that a higher number of victims (up to six) would not be helped they felt increasingly worse about donating to help one child.
- In another study, participants were just as likely to have negative feelings about donating when they saw pictures of victims who they could not help or other unrelated negative pictures. This indicates that any negative sources can diminish positive feelings about donating.
- The researchers found that negative effects did not continue when donors found out that the other victims had already been helped.
- A final study revealed that some people are actually more motivated to donate when presented with information about additional victims they are not able to help.
The authors conclude that when it comes to people donating, “irrelevant negative feelings from those not able to be helped appeared to blend with the good feelings for those who can be helped, leading to dampened warm glow and smaller donation,” even when dealing with small numbers of victims. These findings reinforce that it is better for fundraisers to focus their communications on one victim who can be saved. This article also provides material linked to the on-going debate in the fundraising community about the effectiveness of using positive or negative language and images. Its findings suggest that any negative information could dampen positive feelings associated with donating.