The Psychology Of Giving

the-good_samaritan07:08 Saturday 16th November 2013
BBC Radio 5 Live

[E]LEANOR OLDROYD: An extra £30 million is being given by the British Government to help people affected by Typhoon Haiyan. That takes its total contribution to £50 million, and is on top of £30 million being given by the British public. The Disasters Emergency Committee started its appeal on Thursday. Since then we’ve had a massive night of fundraising for Children in Need. No money from that is going to the Philippines. What will the effect of two massive appeals in a matter of days have on donations? Will people prioritise one over the other? Let’s talk to Dr Eddy Hogg from the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent. Good morning Eddy.
DR EDDY HOGG: Good morning.
ELEANOR OLDROYD: We know that £31 million has been raised so far for Children in Need. Steven Wiltshire has texted us to say “That’s an amazing total for Children in Need when people have already donated £30 million plus to the DEC appeal. It’s not such a bad country we live in.” Is it? What do you think of that?

DR EDDY HOGG: Well he’s absolutely right. And it is absolutely amazing that Children in Need has once again broken that record, as you say, just a few days after the fantastic outpouring of donations for the Philippines. I think the thing to stress is that in all of our research, we’ve never found a donor who only gives to one charity. People who donate money are generally donating to a whole range of charities, and the way in which they choose to give to them is based on a complex mix of different things. And both of these causes very much tick those boxes.
ELEANOR OLDROYD: So what kind of things are you talking about?
DR EDDY HOGG: So when people choose a charity of course there is a basing on personal taste, and that is what distinguishes donations from tax of course. But there’s also people’s experiences, and people have a clear understanding of the impact of what the money they’re giving is going to, and whether it’s going to be spent efficiently. And people weigh all this up. And in both the DEC appeal and Children in Need it’s made very clear to people that their money is going to people directly in need straight away.
ELEANOR OLDROYD: How powerful is it to have a TV appeal? How much does it obviously give advantage to Children in Need, that they can have these very very evocative and moving videos, and then of course the heartrending pictures we saw on the TV news from the Philippines this week?
DR EDDY HOGG: In both cases it has a tremendous impact. Obviously, being able to sit in the comfort of your lounge, in your home comfort, and see this horrible suffering around you, it really tugs the heartstrings, as you say. And that really prompts people to do something that’s quite simple for them, picking up the phone, or as I did last night, just getting your phone out of your pocket and making a donation. It’s so easy to do from the comfort of your home, and I think it makes people appreciate how comfortable they are and their lives are, when this suffering is broadcast into your comfort.
ELEANOR OLDROYD: We talk about compassion fatigue, don’t we? Does such a thing exist?
DR EDDY HOGG: We’ve never found any evidence of compassion fatigue existing. You find, when a natural disaster occurs, there is very often a big spike in giving. But then giving very quickly returns to normal levels. There’s never been a lull after a big spike. So it’s not that people are giving, and then in the months after thinking perhaps I can’t give so much. People respond very much to need, and then return to their natural, their standard giving patterns. So I don’t think there’s a case of giving fatigue at all.
ELEANOR OLDROYD: And what about the smaller charities? I imagine that if you’ve got a big night like Children in Need, if you’ve got a big appeal like DEC, the DEC appeal for the Philippines, is it the smaller charities that miss out in times like this?
DR EDDY HOGG: I don’t think so. No. I think smaller charities have to be extremely resourceful, and often will plan their fundraising weeks, months, even years in advance, and therefore will have a fundraising plan that goes well beyond weeks like this, where we’re seeing huge amounts of fundraising. So no, I don’t think .. if people were planning to give to a small local charity who they had a very clear relationship with, they still would, and still will, next week and the week after and the month to come.
ELEANOR OLDROYD: It’s interesting you say that people have obviously their pet charities. Some people will always give to animal charities. Some people will give to children’s charities. And I suppose it’s people who are personally affected by something. Later on in the programme we’ll hear from Jack Osborne who I was talking to, who is fronting an appeal on behalf of the MS Society this weekend, and he’s suffering from MS at the moment. So if you’ve got a personal connection, if somebody in your family has suffered from an illness or something like that, does that presumably have a big effect?
DR EDDY HOGG: Absolutely. It’s no coincidence that year on year Cancer Research is the charity that receives the highest amount of donations. And cancer is something that touches us all. We all have experienced, we all know we will experience in our lives, a loved one experiencing cancer. And so the experience of that touches us all, and that’s why we donate to that. And of course at all levels that occurs. So yes, for some people animal charities are important. For others, overseas aid may be important all year round. For others it’s children’s charities. And that very much reflects both an individual’s taste and their personal experience. If someone has gone though an illness, or has used some kind of charity in their life, they are much more likely to donate to that charity when they’re in a position to do so.
ELEANOR OLDROYD: And do natural disasters particularly get people to dip into their pockets? Because I think you contrasted what’s happened with the Philippines, and what’s happened with the terrible situation in Syria.
DR EDDY HOGG: Yes. You look at the Disasters Emergency Committee appeals over the last five, ten years or so, and it is very noticeable that natural disasters attract far greater amounts of donations. So the Pakistan floods attracted £70 million. The East African famine nearly £80 million. The Haitian earthquake, over £100 million, and of course the tsunami, nearly £400 million. You contrast that with the Gaza conflict, not quite £10 million, The Congolese refugees displaced by the conflict, around £10 million. I think it’s very easy in a natural disaster for people to realise the suffering that people are going though. I think in a case of a political crisis, it’s much harder to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. So in Syria for example, we can conceptualise that President Assad is not the good guy, but equally Islamic militants are not the good guys. And it becomes much harder to make that moral decision, which in the Philippines, in the case of Haiti, in the case of the tsunami, was very clear. It was a natural disaster. These were people who’d been going about their daily lives and had the carpet ripped from under them by a natural disaster.
ELEANOR OLDROYD: It’s a fascinating subject. Thank you for very much indeed for talking to us. Dr Eddy Hogg from the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent.