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  • Writer's pictureDr Cassandra Chapman

How do identities influence charity preferences?

Which charity is most important to you? Why?

These are the questions we asked 1,849 people in 117 countries. We analysed their responses to note themes and trends. And we learned a lot about how identities influence charitable giving. Here are four key takeaways:

1. Self vs Other: people can be egoistic or altruistic

Some donors (45% of our sample) explained their giving in relation to their ‘self’, talking about their social identities (groups they belong to), values and beliefs, suffering they had experienced, or benefits they had received from the charity as motives for giving. Other donors (59%) explained their giving in relation to ‘others’, talking about the beneficiary’s identities, power, importance, or neediness.

2. Identities influence giving; but which ones? People commonly named both their own identities and beneficiaries’ identities when explaining their charity preferences.

Content analyses of beneficiary identities revealed a strong preference for helping children, animals, and sick people. Other types of beneficiaries (e.g., the LGBTIQ community, ex-offenders) were rarely mentioned as the reason for preferring a charity. This suggests that some needy groups are more likely to be helped than others. We were also able to create an inventory of the identities that donors say influence their giving choices. These were different from the identities that fundraisers may assume. The identities most commonly named by donors were based on family, geography, organisations, religion, friendship groups, and being a human. Charities may wish to make explicit connections with these kinds of identities in their fundraising appeals to help donors see a connection between the cause and one of these important identities. 3. Shared identities are powerful motives for giving

A significant minority of donors (around 8%) explicitly mentioned shared identities—the fact that they and the beneficiary both belonged to a group that was important to the donor. This suggests that charities that can highlight a shared identity between potential donors and the organisation’s beneficiaries will be more successful in their fundraising. 4. Motives depend on the beneficiary

By analysing the frequency of different motives across different types of charities, we found that donors’ motives are influenced by the beneficiaries in question. Donors were more likely to use self-oriented motives to explain their giving to medical research and religious charities. For these kinds of charities, fundraisers may wish to emphasise relevant identities, personal experiences, and benefits for the donor. On the other hand, donors were more likely to use other-oriented motives to explain giving to social welfare, animal, and international charities. For these kinds of charities, fundraisers may find more traditional empathy-based appeals to be most effective.

In sum, this study shows that donors have diverse motives for giving. In particular, both donor and beneficiary identities influence charity preferences. Charities must understand the identities that motivate donors to give to their particular cause or beneficiary, in order to write powerful and effective fundraising campaigns.


This article was originally published on the Social Change Lab blog (19 October 2020).

Read the full article:

Chapman, Masser, & Louis. (2020). Identity motives in charitable giving: Explanations for charity preferences from a global donor survey. Psychology & Marketing, 37(9), 1277-1291.


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