Charity Begins at Home, but Travels Well
Women like to spread the wealth, while men keep it local.
Charitable donations add up to billions of dollars a year; how do men and women choose which causes are the worthiest? And, do they donate differently? The answer is yes.
Women are likely to give to charities that benefit people similar to them as well as to needy people who differ from them, while men prefer to give to charities that reflect their own demographic, says a new study.
The study involved researchers from three universities: lead study author Karen P. Winterich, PhD, Texas A&M University marketing professor; Vikas Mittal, PhD, professor of management and marketing at Rice University; and William T. Ross, PhD, professor of marketing at Penn State University.
Research focused on sex differences between donations to ingroups (groups which whom the donor would identify, through ethnicity or physical proximity) and outgroups (groups who possess no similar characteristics other than shared humanity).
The researchers’ goal was to explore how sex differences work with moral identity when people give to charity. “We didn’t necessarily expect a gender difference starting out, but we consistently found that gender identity influenced how people donated to groups,” Winterich tells demo dirt. “Previous research has found that females can be more charitable than males, but other work finds men can be more charitable than women. Given these mixed findings, it was interesting to find that the gender difference is not necessarily the amount of giving, but to whom one gives.”
To gauge participants’ moral identity, researchers gave participants five $1 bills and three options as to what to do with the money: keep it, donate it to victims of Hurricane Katrina, or give it to aid victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Moral identity is the measurement of how important values like kindness, justice, caring and honesty are to an individual.
Results found that people with higher moral identity were more likely to want to share the money between the two charities, keeping none of it for themselves. Those with the lowest moral identity were most likely to keep the whole five dollars rather than donate to either charity.
“The main point of the research was to see under what conditions are men more generous, or under what conditions are women more generous,” Mittal explains. “The tsunami and Hurricane Katrina had just happened, so we started looking at a systematic difference between people who give to ingroups versus outgroups. Would gender have an impact? Would that always be the case?”
Findings indicated that while everyone gives more to the ingroup, women are more likely than men to give to outgroups. “I think it is easier for females to feel connected to the outgroup than it is for males, which leads females to give to both groups,” Winterich says. “When people reported a stronger connection or overlap to the donation group, they tended to give more.”
Moral identity has a strong effect as well, no matter the sex of the donor. “Men gave more to outgroups if they had a high moral identity, which means they value things like honesty, caring and kindness,” Mittal says. “These were men who felt that moral characteristics are important. Men who did not [have as high a moral identity], gave more to the ingroup, and less to the outgroup.”
The two factors work together, say the researchers. “It is the interaction of gender with moral identity that determines which you give to and how much,” Ross adds.
He also explains that women, while more generous to outgroups than men, do not neglect their own group. “Remember that women gave about equally to the ingroup and outgroup so it is not that they were more concerned about the outgroup than the ingroup, but that they were more concerned about the outgroup than men were,” Ross notes.
The interest in outgroups stems from the fact that when people possess a higher moral identity, their “circle of moral regard expands,” Mittal states. When that occurs, he explains, “men start to feel more responsible for themselves and their ingroup.”
Overall, Mittal explains, the more people focus on groups outside of their own, the higher their moral identity. “It means giving more to the outgroup, whether as proportion or as an absolute, because it is easy to give to the ingroup, but to give to the outgroup is harder,” he says.
“Giving more without reference to in or outgroup comes closest to having a higher moral identity,” Ross says.
How can these findings help charities increase donations? Do they need to target potential donors based on sex?
No, they do not necessarily need to approach men and women differently, Winterich says. ”However, charitable organizations should benefit from considering how they frame the donation recipient to potential donors, particularly if donors are likely to be male,” she notes. “If the donation recipient can be perceived as an ingroup rather than an outgroup by donors, they may receive more donations.”
Mittal adds that if charities make potential donors increasingly aware of moral identity, they can increase their success. “If [potential donors] see the charity as an outgroup, then when making donation appeals, charities need to activate moral identity,” he advises. “This reminds people to be moral in general, and to be kind, so if you cannot show anything in common, the best chance is to activate moral identity.”
Future research, Winterich says, will continue to focus on how to use information about sex differences to increase not-for-profit revenue. “We’re interested in examining cases when males may tend to give more to the outgroup than females as well as specific types of donations that may or may not result in a similar pattern,” she states. “As the number of charitable organizations increases, it will become more and more important for these organizations to understand how to obtain donor dollars.”
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