To boost donations, leave out the statistics

Don't overwhelm prospective donors, says one expert

When people are confronted with the chance to give, detailing the scope of the problem may actually decrease their likeliness to help, says one expert.

Paul Slovic, University of Oregon psychologist, ran a study to determine why some people donate significantly to one cause but not at all to others.

  • One group was told a story about a starving girl, and then asked how much they would be willing to give.
  • A second group was told the same story, but also heard information about the millions of others suffering as well, before being asked to give.

The latter group, Slovic found, donated about 50% less. "As the numbers grow, we sort of lose the emotional connection to the people who are in need," says Slovic.

The statistics also make people feel as if their contribution will not make a significant difference, he says. Helping the girl would make donors feel good, he explains, but not being able to help everyone makes them feel bad. So people choose not to do anything because they cannot do everything.

People think, "well, this is such a big problem. Is my donation going to be effective in any way," says Slovic.

At that point, the challenge is to demonstrate that every dollar helps (Vedantam, NPR, 11/5).

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