The positive recognition, or "image motivation" a donor gets from other members of the community is a major factor for charitable giving says a new study from Tel Aviv University (TAU).
Dr. Anat Bracha, of the Eitan Berglas School of Economics at TAU, says that her study can help fundraising organizations understand how to elicit maximum donor response in today's tough times.
"Charitable giving is a much greater sacrifice now than it was at this time last year. Budgets are tighter for everyone, so giving is likely to have greater image value," she says.
She believes that it can be helpful for fundraising organisations to emphasize the image benefits of charitable giving.
She, however, also warns that if any other main motivators for giving collide with image motivation, they may have a "crowding-out" effect.
Her study focused on the effects of participating in charitable events in two settings - one public, one private - and examined two kinds of motivators - image and financial.
The study showed a negative interaction between monetary incentives and image, the thesis that Dr. Bracha and her colleagues were testing.
One of the experiments was conducted in the gym at MIT, wherein a "Biking for Charity" scenario was created. People were invited to participate in 10 minutes of biking, and their efforts could earn money for a charitable cause.
Some were also paid for their participation.
"We had one group do it in public, and one in private. The 'public sphere' was in the main room of the gym, and the 'private sphere' was on the third floor, in its own room. What we demonstrated was that giving was affected by how visible the participation was. The more public, the greater the image boost, and the greater the contribution," says Dr. Bracha.
However, when the researchers introduced monetary incentives, they were more effective in private than in public.
"Monetary and image motivations clashed," Dr. Bracha says.
In the public sphere, people exerted the same level of effort on their stationary bikes with or without compensation, aware that positive social acclaim might be undermined if viewers were aware of their personal monetary gain.
In the private room, where participants did not have to contend with social judgment, they biked more miles on average when they were paid to do so.
Based on her team's observations, Dr. Bracha said that a more positive image in the eyes of the community would require greater visibility in that community.
The researchers pointed to the Lance Armstrong Foundation Live Strong campaign as an example, in which donors are visibly recognizable by unique wristbands.
She said that websites that acknowledge donors by name serve to have the same effect.
"This is a very public thing - everyone sees you when you participate," she says.
A research article on Dr. Bracha's study has been published in American Economic Review.