Why Do People Donate To Charities?

There are many factors that have to do with giving behavior. The seven most important factors that influence the giving of money to charities are related to the role of households (the donors), the social environment of households, the charities (the recipients of donations), the media , and the beneficiaries who ultimately benefit from donations to charities.

In order to be able to give money to charities, it is important that a household has money left over after its own needs have been met. Of course, someone will not often give money to charities when the rent has not yet been paid, or when there is no money for new shoes for the children. That is why it is important that the own needs of a family are satisfied before money can be given to charities. By needs we mean basic things such as a home, food and means of transport, but also more luxurious items such as a dryer or a dishwasher. People spend money on their own family rather than on charities.

Households that do not live on their monthly income will hardly give to charities. When the needs of a household are met and money is left, it may be available to give to charities.

It is also important that there is clarity about the financial future of a household. It is safer to give money to charities when the family income will not change too much in the near future. This is different when a household does not have financial security, for example when people receive social assistance benefits. The chance that a household will then give money is very small.

Moreover, the amount that households give to charities does not increase in proportion to income. An increase in income only results in a limited increase in donations to charities. If the income increases by 10%, the gifts only increase by 3%. This means that relatively low-income households spend a larger portion of their income on charities than households that earn a lot.

Advertising for charities

To be able to give money to a charity it is important that people know that a certain purpose exists. It is easier to give money to visible charities than to invisible ones. Charities generally become visible to the public through media attention. Often this attention is free, for example in the form of a documentary about charity. Charities often do not have to pay for advertisements in door-to-door magazines, newspapers and magazines.

But charities also incur costs to bring their cause to the attention of the public, for example via commercials on radio and television. A disguised form of advertising is, for example, via participation in charity lotteries. These lotteries have weekly television broadcasts which in turn draw attention to the participating charities.


The degree of media attention for a charity depends mainly on the news value. Actions by the Cooperating Aid Organizations following a disaster like the Tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 receive much more media attention than the Red Cross, which calls for the construction of houses for seriously ill children. A lot of charities therefore create their own news value. An important instrument that they use for this is the deployment of celebrities. When Irene Moors asks attention for sick children, this has more news value than when an unknown Red Cross employee does this.

Knowledge about the existence of charities can also arise because people come into contact with problems or situations that are supported by charities. For example, if someone’s mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he can request information about this disease from the Alzheimer Foundation. This charity has come to the attention and there is a chance that money will be given to the Alzheimer Nederland Foundation in the future.

In person

An important reason why people give money to charities is that they are asked. There are all kinds of ways in which people are asked to give money. This can be personal, for example in the church or at a door-to-door collection, but also impersonal, via a letter or a television promotion. Personal requests appear to be much more effective than impersonal ones. That is why many charities use door-to-door collections.

In the case of personal requests, the relational distance to the applicant determines the chance of someone giving money. The smaller the distance between applicant and potential donor, the greater the chance that the requested will give money. Most people give money to a family member who collects rather than to a neighbor who collects money for the same purpose.

Signal to environment

By giving money to a charity, people can send a signal about themselves to others. By publicly giving money to charities or by talking about this, you signal others that you are a socially involved citizen or a good person.

When you choose to openly give money to a certain charity, you show others that you agree with the objective of this organization. With this you can send different signals. Usually someone will openly give money to goals that he expects to have a positive social environment. This is the case, for example, when a mother tells in the schoolyard that she supports Unicef. By the way, most people don’t often talk to others about what they give to charities. Modesty about gifts is appreciated. You should not hit yourself too hard about what you give.

Sometimes social pressure from the environment makes it difficult to refuse to give money to a good cause. Anyone who is personally asked for a gift for a good cause by a family member or acquaintance from the neighborhood would endanger the relationship with this person by not giving.

By giving money you also signal to others that you belong to that charity. This is often an important motive for giving money to goals that receive a lot of positive media attention. By giving money to these goals, you belong to an organization that attracts positive attention, which is something that many people are sensitive to. An example of this is the huge boom in donations that came in for victims of the Tsunami, as a result of the television campaign on 6 January 2005. During the television campaign, an atmosphere of solidarity was created that people wanted to belong to.

Gifts can sometimes give status or prestige, when it concerns a large amount and others can see the gift. Naming research institutes, buildings, concert halls and the like after the donor who financed the costs is still more in the United States, but it is happening more and more often. On a smaller scale we see this trend in wearing wristbands in different colors. The wristbands not only give others the signal that they are supporting a good cause, but sometimes also about the amount of the donation made.