Giving, Volunteering, and Happiness

If giving makes you happy, why don’t people give more? 

I recently encountered an interesting answer to this question, thanks to Stanford University’s Center for Social Innovation. CSI_Red_RGB

Last fall, Stanford marketing professor Jennifer Aaker published a podcast and related journal article about people’s mindsets toward giving.  Her team’s research and experiments showed that asking people for volunteer time before you ask them for money increases their financial contributions later.  

She notes in the podcast:

  • People are overwhelmed by the number of nonprofits, and more importantly, are having a tough time differentiating between them.  Creating a great brand experience (your authentic, distinct promise to your stakeholders) separates you from the crowd.
  • Relationships are driven by first impressions and are cemented in the first six weeks.  It then becomes difficult to overcome any mistakes or problems that happen in that early stage.  So, the first experience with your organization is important.
  • Asking people questions about their intentions to act increases the likelihood that they will later perform the act.  Companies frequently sponsor surveys about buying habits to prompt people into considering buying their products.
  • Volunteering correlates highly with personal happiness.  Even the idea of volunteering evokes connections to positive experience, values, personal growth, and self-actualization.
  • The concept of money and financial gifts evokes questions of utilitarian value, effectiveness, competition for resources.  Those frequently trump the values association with charitable giving. 

So, if you want to win someone’s long-term support, ask them to consider volunteering first.  And when they say yes, make sure the experience is meaningful.  Then later ask for a donation.  Try an experiment with your next batch of prospects and let me know how it goes.

You can listen to the hour-long podcast here – the first half is on the giving research and the second half is on connections to brand strategies.  The related academic journal article, a 15-page PDF, is here .