The Psychology Behind Why We Give

You may be wondering how one person has raised almost $50,000 to make potato salad.


Americans are now donating more than ever before. Recent studies have shown that we're more likely to give to one person, rather than many. In fact, we're willing to donate twice as much if it serves the needs of an individual, instead of a group. This establishes an inverse relationship between the amount of people involved and the responsibility we feel to reach out. 

But why? There is an explanation that stems from individual involvement and personalization—the opportunity for people to actually change future trajectories and become part of how stories are shaped. This reasoning is driven by empathetic roots that run deep in our psyche:

  • Equity Theory:  In our interpersonal relationships we seek out fair distribution of resources. Otherwise we become anxious and actively seek to repair the balance between input and output. (Adams, 1976)
  • Identity-based Motivation: The degree to which identities are malleable has a large impact on our readiness to act. The more we identify with a cause, the more our effort becomes meaningful (Oyserman, 2009)
  • High-return cooperative strategy: Even without apparent personal gain, giving back and getting behind a cause make us feel good about ourselves as an individual.
  • These psychological roots directly relate to crowdfunding today as it involves multiple people – the crowd – all individually supporting one single cause. I find this fascinating, because between advertising and the multitude of global initiatives competing for our limited attention span, crowdfunding curates the over-stimulus and solicitation of money through transparency of a campaign message that donors can connect with on a personalized, intimate, and individual basis. Never before has it been easier to create a direct link between the individual and the cause than it is now.  

    Image source: http://resources3.news.com.au/images/2013/02/06/1226571/488115-giving-to-others.jpg

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