Survey Says: Poor More Charitable than Wealthy

In July, Professor Paul Piff and colleagues from University of California, Berkeley, published their findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. You can read about the study here.

Piff and colleagues conducted four different studies and each time – poor individuals were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful than their rich counter parts. The study hypothesized that those from lower socioeconomic status orient toward the welfare of others as a means to adapt to their more hostile environments and that this orientation gives rise to greater pro-social behavior. The study showed that lower class individuals acted in a more pro-social fashion because of a greater commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion.

This is interesting and informative news for the nonprofit sector and fundraisers in particular. So many times I have heard,

“Our Board, volunteers, clients are too poor to give.”

Well from this study, once again, we cannot apply stereotypes or what we THINK of our prospects, donors, volunteers, Board members. This is not to say you abandon your major gift strategy – but this study will take your THINKING in another direction. They looked at how and why people give in four different ways.

  1. Bogus experiments so the 115 participants didn’t know what the study was about.
  2. Giving “credits” to an anonymous partner – Generosity increased as participants’ assessment of their own social status fell.
  3. Study participants were asked to write a story about an interaction with someone who was extremely wealthy or poor – Those with less income felt a larger percentage of income should be donated to charity than wealthy participants.
  4. Video was used to prime compassion – Lower class always showed compassion – with or without the priming. HOWEVER, the wealthy were more compassionate after watching the video.

My conclusions:

  • Don’t assume you KNOW what your donors, prospects, volunteers, leaders can and cannot do to support your organization.
  • Talk to your constituents – hold focus groups, hire a consultant to help, post a survey.
  • Don’t leave anyone out of your solicitation process – from the bottom of the pyramid to the top. We all know the saying, “If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.”
  • Integrated, holistic and strategic fundraising will engage donors and prospects effectively.
  • Use multi-channel (VIDEO) marketing to engage, inform and ask for support.

Thanks to Professor Piff and colleagues for this work.

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