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A new study reveals why some people donate to charity more than others

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A new study suggests that people who have a high moral identity and empathy with a charitable cause are likely to give more to that specific cause.

The study, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, asked several simple questions: Who is more likely to give money to charity? How do those people choose which charities to donate to?

The first answer was simple. People with strong moral values give more dollars to charities. However, the answer to the second question, how those people choose charities, proved more complicated. The answer depended on how donors perceived a certain cause and how much they empathized with charity recipients. For donors, a charity's perception was largely based on if they believed that the recipients were responsible for their own situations.

In four separate studies, researchers asked volunteers for donations to various charities. Those charities, however, benefited people considered responsible for their need, such as organizations that work with those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Because volunteers perceived these charities based on their own set of moral values and what they believe as right and wrong, they were less likely to give to those specific charities.

However, once researchers asked volunteers about their own past behavior, particularly things that they’ve done that they consider immoral or wrong, the volunteers perceptions’ changed and they empathized more with those people they thought responsible for their own situations. Because of that, they became more likely to donate more to those specific charities.

The implications of this study could benefit charities who often help those people partly responsible for their own plights. By creating empathy in their marketing messages, these charitable organizations can reach more people who want to offer monetary aid to those causes.

“Our results can help non-profits be more cautious when describing the causes and
beneficiaries they are supporting,” the study's authors say. “Donation appeals should specify or imply low responsibility of the charity recipients or, alternatively, seek to elicit empathy to increase donations."

This research could also be used for any organization that raises money, including politicians. Perhaps if candidates elicited more empathy in their campaigns, they would raise higher amounts of money for themselves and their causes.

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