Sometimes I'm benumbed by many requests from charities that fill the snail mail or electronic mailboxes. Still other times I'm on the other side, trying to publicize a good cause so that some will be encouraged to help out in some manner. I suspect many readers of America have found themselves in similar positions. The behavioral and social sciences do include charitable giving under their aegis, and from the Stanford Graduate School of Business comes a study: "Should Charities Ask for Time Before Money?"
Writing in the "Journal of Consumer Research", the authors reported that asking persons for their time, not their money, is a better way to increase donations to a particular cause. Now, this study was not done in Catholic diocesan or parish setting, so the findings may not generalize (and you may have particular and even strong points of agreement or disagreement). Intriguingly, and maybe importantly, these researchers found that asking people to volunteer for a cause positively shifts the willingness to give both time and money:
"The reason, according to Jennifer Aaker of Stanford Graduate School of Business and Wendy Liu of UCLA, coauthors of the study, is that questions regarding time versus money stimulate different mindsets. When people are solicited for their time, they automatically think in terms of emotional meaning and fulfillment: Will volunteering for this charity make me happy? When tapped for money, they start thinking about the far more practical, boring, and sometimes painful matter of "economic utility": Will making a donation make a dent in my wallet?
"The time first approach therefore makes the emotional significance of what you're asking stand out, which stimulates positive feelings and an increased belief that volunteering would be linked to personal happiness. That emotional mindset ultimately leads to greater giving," explains Aaker, General Atlantic Partners Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
"In short, the new study suggests that asking for people's time connects them with the deep mission of the organization, which makes them more inspired to be involved in that endeavor in every way. Conversely, asking people for money may well cause them to disengage.
"Nonprofits, therefore, may want to create more differentiated ways to foster feelings of meaning in their donors," Aaker says. Also, she cautions, while providing stakeholders with metrics on where an organization's money is going can be useful, an overemphasis on dollars at the expense of emotional connectedness may actually turn off donors."
You may see this study as an example of the social sciences being used to manipulate others; if so, please comment below or be forewarned the next time someone asks you to give some of your time. Or, perhaps you are in charge of raising money for a parish or diocesan event and will have an "aha" moment and see a way to use these findings, of course for the greater good, and recognize that ancient phrase of "time, talent, and treasure" as being scientifically validated. All of this leads me to a final thought. Although this was not my original intention—I began to blog simply about an interesting topic—you might want to consider spending time with some of the retired priests and brothers at a Jesuit residence somewhere, especially during this Advent season. Enough said.