The Social Science of Giving

If you’re looking to build a compelling employee giving program as part of a philanthropy initiative, or you’re hoping to increase contributions to a non-profit, behavioral economists may have some answers for you. “What makes people give?,” an article in last week’s New York Times Magazine , explored the results of new studies designed to answer that very question. One found that the promise of a 1-to-1 match enticed more people to give to an organization, but anything above that (a 2-1 or 3-1 match) did not significantly increase donations. 

On the surface, this does not make much sense – a higher match is essentially a discounted donation because it allows a donor to have the same effect for less money, and who doesn’t love a discount?  However, these results prove the theory that people care just as much about the “warm glow” they get when they donate money to a good cause as they do about the impact that money will have.  People want to help feed starving children, but they also want to be the type of person who helps feed starving children.  This is crucial to keep in mind when trying to engage employees in a matching gift program.  For instance, instead of trying to entice more employees to give by offering a 2-1 match, consider offering a 1-1 match and using the additional money to celebrate contributors in company publications or on an intranet site.  The “warm glow” can be contagious, and this type of public recognition will likely inspire others to get involved as well.

-Leah Gutstadt, Former Assistant Account Executive, Cause Branding