People are more likely to donate to charity if they benefit in some way, study shows

No selfless act! People are more likely to donate money to charity if they think they’re benefitting THEMSELVES, study finds

  • Researchers implemented a ‘statewide natural field experiment’ in Alaska, US
  • They worded postcard adverts for charitable donations in two different ways 
  • The one that emphasised selfish benefits was best at getting people to donate  

If charities want to start receiving more donations, they should tweaked their marketing to make the public feel like they’ll benefit personally, a new study shows.  

Researchers performed experiments with with 540,000 people living in the northwest US state of Alaska.  

Just tweaking the working of a promotional postcard intended to make people donate increased the likelihood of donating, as well as the amount donated, the study authors found.  

Reminding potential donors that giving to charity benefits the person making the donation is the best way to encourage generosity, they say. 

Emphasising selfish benefits is the best way to get people to open their wallets.  

Reminding potential donors that giving to charity benefits the person making the donation is the best way to encourage generosity, according to researchers from the US and Australia (stock image) 

The research has been conducted by researchers at the Australian National University and the University of Chicago. 

‘Results from our experiment highlight the relative importance of benefits to self as a driver of giving,’ they say in their paper. 

‘Our results have import for theoreticians and empiricists interested in modelling charitable giving as well as practitioners and policymakers.’ 

Researchers partnered with Alaska’s Pick.Click.Give. programme to implement their ‘statewide natural field experiment’. 

Pick.Click.Give. was created by the Alaskan government in 2008 to allow Alaskans filing for their Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) online to donate a portion or all of their dividends to charitable causes. 

For their study, the team randomly assigned every household in Alaska to either a control group (who received no postcard) or one of two groups that did receive a postcard.

The postcards, which were sent to around 540,000 Alaskans, encouraged them to ‘warm your heart’ by donating to a charity, or to donate to ‘make Alaska better’.

These two messages each correspond with one of two main motivations for charitable giving – concerns for the benefits to self (known as ‘impure altruism’ or ‘warm glow’) or concerns for the benefits to others (known as ‘pure altruism’).  

Those who received the ‘warm your heart’ postcard donated 23 per cent more than those who did not receive a postcard, and were 6.6 per cent more likely to donate, they found.

Those encouraged to ‘make Alaska better’ were more likely to donate than the people in the control group who did not receive a postcard.

However, the former did not donate significantly more than the latter. 

‘Messages that highlighted the benefits to others increased the propensity to give, but there was no evidence of an effect on average donation size,’ the researchers say.    

The study has been published in Nature Human Behaviour.  


Being generous really does make people happier, according to research in 2017 from an international team of experts.

Neurons in an area of the brain associated with generosity activate neurons in the ventral striatum, which are associated with happiness, the study found.

A group of 50 volunteers in Switzerland took part in a spending experiment, with each given 25 Swiss Francs (£20/$25) per week for four weeks. 

As part of the experiment, participants performed an independent decision-making task, in which they could behave more or less generously while brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

They were asked to choose to give between three and 25 francs of their money as a present to a recipient different from those previously chosen.

The researchers found that participants who had committed to spending their endowment on others behaved more generously in the decision-making task.

They also discovered greater self-reported increases in happiness as compared to the control group. 

The full results were published in the journal Nature Communications.