Featured Topic: Charitable and Donation Behavior

Sarah Krivan 


Given the option of donating your time or money, which would you choose? Charitable donation comprises gifting either or both of these to a cause the donor deems worthy, often in response to an advertising appeal. Other forms of donation behavior include organ donation for transplants, and blood donation.

Lee and Chang (2007) reported that monetary donation was much more popular among their respondents, which they attributed to its straightforwardness as a gesture. In contrast, volunteering requires both the capability to invest spare time in these activities, and also the enthusiasm to follow through. These authors also found that predominantly extrinsic factors (e.g., socioeconomic status) were associated with the willingness to make monetary donations, whereas volunteering one’s time was influenced more by intrinsic factors, such as higher levels of empathy and greater awareness of nonprofit organizations (NPOs).

For NPOs seeking to secure donations, one-size-fits-all advertising may not be the best approach. Kim (2016) observed cultural differences in both attitudes toward charity donation appeal advertising and donation intention, with South Korean participants responding well to advertisements with in-group cues featuring emotional messages, whereas U.S. participants showed a more positive response to rational message appeals. Lee and Cho (2017) examined how empathy and message framing (gain vs. loss) interact to influence responses to international relief campaigns. They found that the interaction of gain framing (i.e., messages indicating how the charity recipients will benefit from donations) and high dispositional empathy resulted in the most favorable responses to the campaigns. This finding regarding gain versus loss framing of donation appeals was echoed by Pancer et al. (1979), who noted that displays with “helped” children, who had already received aid and shown improvements as a result, garnered more interest from potential donors than did displays featuring “needy” children, who appeared to be in poor health and in need.

The method of advertising for donations also influences the success of fundraising campaigns. Two relatively recently developed fundraising approaches are microcharity fundraisers—which involve individuals or organizations fundraising for specific, small-scale projects—and the use of social networking sites to put forth appeals. Du et al. (2014) described microcharity donors as taking a more active role in following the work of these charities compared to the passive role taken by donors to traditional charities. In particular, donation behavior was more common among those who perceived having a shared vision with microcharities that were highly accessible. Regarding the use of social media as a donation appeal forum, Feng et al. (2017) found that potential donors had higher perceived trust in and satisfaction with social networking sites that offered greater interactivity and dissemination. This, in turn, increased their likelihood of donating to NPOs.

Regardless of which method of assistance is offered and on what scale, charitable donation offers social benefits for both donors and recipients. To find out more about what our authors have discovered in relation to these topics you can sign up for a personal subscription to SBP. This will give you access to the more than 6,000 papers we’ve published in the fields of social, behavioral, and developmental psychology.

Who gives what to charity? Characteristics affecting donation behavior – Yu-Kang Lee and Chun-Tuan Chang, 2007, 35(9), 1173–1180.

Cultural orientation affects consumer responses to charity advertising – Yoojung Kim, 2016, 44(7), 1079–1088.

Interactive effects of dispositional empathic concern and message framing on international relief campaigns – Seungjo Lee and Jaehee Cho, 2017, 45(8), 1281–1292.

The use of displays in soliciting charitable donations – S. Mark Pancer, Cheryl Deforest, Ian Rogers, and Donna Schmirler, 1979, 7(1), 33–38. 

Influences of altruistic motivation, shared vision, and perceived accessibility on microcharity behavior – Lanying Du, Ling Qian, and Yi Feng, 2014, 42(10), 1639–1650.

How social media strategies of nonprofit organizations affect consumer donation intention and word-of-mouth – Yi Feng, Lanying Du, and Qian Ling, 2017, 45(11), 1775–1786.