Donation: The Behavioral Approach

In times of post-recession fallout, we’re all a little less care-free and a little more cautious. With our sensible hem-lines and down-to-business persona it has become increasingly difficult for charities to loosen our proverbial purse-strings and nudge us into donating. They are now enlisting the help of behavioural economics to develop an altogether more strategic approach.


The plan is three-fold, primarily honing in on our impulsive nature. When drawing money from an ATM, the user is given the option to donate to any number of well-known charities – either in a separate screen, or in the main-menu window as a post transition option. The principle being that, when using an ATM, we are already engaged in a monetary action; spending is on our minds, however as we are not yet physically holding our bounty from which the donation would be deducted, we are somewhat under the influence of illusoriness of spending (following the principle that it is easier for us to spend via credit-card, as it feels less “real”). And studies have shown it to be harder for people to give away money they already have.

Next, the charity niggles at our conscience, questioning the ATM user on the reason for withdrawing cash. Depending on their reason, (i.e. if the user had pegged this money entirely for hedonistic use) this could prompt feelings of guilt within the user, further encouraging charitable donation.

Finally things are wrapped up with a post donation fanfare which is both fun, and may in turn influence the next person to donate also, creating new social norms.

I think this is a great idea; neat and innovative, the fanfare in particular calls to mind recent Fun Theory experiments (successfully implemented to encourage recycling) and, as it makes user donations a public affair, I imagine will be successful in encouraging contribution from others. My only reservation being that; I’m not sure I would donate. Charities want to encourage donations of £10 on average. The idea is great, if people feel they can afford to donate, but if they feel they can’t then I don’t think any amount of psychological coercion will change that.