Your brain is greedy; your gut is more giving

Your brain is greedy; your gut is more giving

Holiday season has arrived, which means that the onslaught of charity solicitations is in full swing. "The ask" will come in many different forms - through e-mail, through snail mail, through charity events. With so many vying for your checkbook, one cause - or maybe even a few - is bound to get in your pants pockets. How you choose a beneficiary is a process that, quite often, doesn't involve much process at all. According to a recent study, impulse plays a key role in how we give. We act far more generously, the research suggests, when we make a snap decision.

"Want to be a more generous, cooperative person? Don’t dwell on it. Be impulsive," the Boston Globe article said.

The lesson here for nonprofits: keep your "ask" concise and compelling. Don't bog down your solicitation with too much narrative or too many statistics. A human success story, coupled with a statistic that shows obvious and profound impact, should be enough. Another key lesson: make the money transaction stage quick and easy. A donor should be able to act on his/her gut feeling of generosity and make a donation within 2 minutes. That leaves little time for additional forms that ask for phone numbers, e-mail addresses, "how did you hear about us?", etc. etc. Seducing the donor should be the hardest part - not the actual money transaction. Don't give them an opportunity to dwell on their decision.

More from the article:

"The researchers repeatedly found that people acted most generously when they made snap decisions about how much to contribute, or were primed beforehand to recount a time in which their intuitions and emotions had guided them to a good decision. As people took more time to mull decisions over, or were asked to remember a time that they had benefitted because rational thinking or an emotional response had led them astray, they contributed less."

Are humans "hard-wired" to be generous? Not necessarily. Instead, the study suggests that our intuitive actions are steered by repetitive interactions in our day-to-day lives. The more cooperative behavior we see, the more inherently giving we become. Compassion is contagious, which explains the fundraising phenomenon called the "Snowball Effect." Person A makes a generous donation to a cause. Person B is touched by the gesture and wants to have that same feeling of satisfaction. Person A has set a high standard of generosity that Person B feels she must live up to. Person C realizes that Person B has made a donation out of her usual comfort zone of generosity. It spurs Person C to do the same. And so on and so on. This phenomenon is best encapsulated during live charity auctions (see picture above).

Making an anonymous donation is honorable; but being forthright about your own generosity may be better for society, because it spurs others to do the same.



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