Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Tagged: Charities

Need versus beauty - how the "beauty premium" affects charitable giving

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📥  Charity, Giving, Philanthropy, Research

 

Even though people believe that donations should be allocated based on the neediness of charity recipients, the recently published paper by Cynthia Cryder (University of Washington, St Louis), Simona Botti (London Business School) and Yvetta Simonyan (University of Bath) documents a “charity beauty premium” - the tendency of donors to favour more beautiful, but less needy, beneficiaries. In this piece, Yvetta Simonyan considers the implications for charitable giving. 

 

A few years ago, an article in the New Yorker drew readers’ attention to the fact that animals in need of conservation receive unequal attention and support. Pandas, for example, are sometimes viewed as “charismatic megafauna,” attracting disproportionally more money and attention than other endangered animals. The British naturalist Christopher Packham even offered to “eat the last panda” if it would improve the chances of less attractive species receiving more support.

Donors’ tendency to help more attractive causes extends beyond the domain of animal conservation: only 4% of $350 billion donated in the United States in 2014, went directly supporting the most pressing human needs in the developing world. By comparison, universities attracted almost twice as much.

Yet, when we asked people what is the single most important factor that affects their charitable giving, 46% indicated neediness of donation recipients (the second most popular answer was the impact, which was mentioned by 8% of the respondents). In another study, when we asked participants to evaluate photos from a fundraising website on the dimensions of attractiveness and neediness, they rated more attractive people as less needy. Combined, these two findings suggest that people should give less to beautiful recipients. But while some prior research investigations support that proposition, others, including the aforementioned examples from industry, suggest that attractive people are more likely to receive help than unattractive ones.

 

Want versus should

We propose that this incongruence exists because donors simultaneously hold two distinct preferences: a want preference for beautiful recipients and a should preference for the needy. Previous research showed that people hold want preferences that are based on affect and, sometimes, linked with desire. On the other hand, should preferences that are reason-based, logical, and more easily justified. For example, when choosing movies, consumers may hold a want preference to watch a comedy and a should preference to watch a documentary. In our research context, beautiful recipients offer intuitive appeal and immediate satisfaction, whereas needy recipients fit with a reasoned priority to help the most desperate individuals.

 

Deliberative or intuitive giving

We propose that donors’ want preferences for beautiful recipients are most likely to emerge when they choose intuitively, whereas donors’ should preferences for needy recipients are most likely to develop when they choose deliberatively. Research in psychology recognises distinctions in cognitive functioning between two types of processing. “System 1” processing, or quick intuitive processing depends on effortless automatic associations and tends to favour affect-rich options. By contrast, “System 2” processing, or deliberative processing operates slowly and depends on logical reasoning. So, when donors decide intuitively, they are more likely to select beautiful recipients in line with their want preferences; when donors decide deliberatively, they are more likely to select needy recipients in line with their should preferences.

We conducted several studies to test our propositions and to find the conditions under which the charity beauty premium effect is attenuated. In line with our predictions, when we asked people if they would like to donate to one (or more) of eight animals kept at a British conservation centre, the four animals that were rated (in a separate study) as more attractive were given almost twice as much money as the other four species that were rated as less attractive. Similarly, when we asked the potential donors to support charities working in developing countries, people demonstrated a preference to sponsor more attractive children over needier ones. So, given these instinctive preferences, how can we increase the chances of needier beneficiaries receiving help?

Our findings showed that people donate more to needier donation recipients when they are asked to make a deliberative rather than an intuitive decision. We also found that decision-makers tend to make deliberative decisions when they choose on behalf of someone else or when they are asked to evaluate the neediness of beneficiaries before deciding whom to help. Finally, the charity beauty premium effect disappears when the donors have above-average levels of empathy towards the recipients.

 

Implications for fundraisers

We do not know whether the individuals involved in decision-making on charitable giving felt any dissonance when making their choices, but we asked the study participants about their perceptions on how they want versus how they should donate. The responses indicate that, even though donors think they should give to needier beneficiaries, they want to give to more attractive recipients.

Interestingly, when the respondents make decisions deliberatively (that is, when charity beauty premium effect is diminished), they are less willing to donate in the future, suggesting that deliberation may act as a double-edged sword – improving the chances of needier recipient in the short term, but reducing the likelihood of future donations. Such evidence suggests that encouraging deliberative giving may benefit less beautiful, but needier recipients, who are competing with more attractive beneficiaries. However, for recurring calls for charitable donations, using more beautiful images instead of encouraging the donors to choose deliberatively may be more beneficial.

 

Image by Thomas Lasserre

 

 

Why don’t people associate WWF with Earth Hour? The battle between ‘panda’ and ‘lights out’

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📥  Branding, Consumers, Environment, Giving

 

Dr Zoe Lee asks how a strong brand identity can help charities who increasingly must satisfy both social and environmental goals and fundraising needs.

Recently I asked my postgraduate students if they knew about Earth Hour. Most of them nodded proudly and smiled. But when I asked if they knew who organised it, not many identified World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Some even mentioned Greenpeace. So why don’t they identify Earth Hour with WWF, and how could WWF use Earth Hour more effectively to elevate and energise its brand?

Earth Hour’s success is unquestionable. It has been labelled the largest grassroots social movement on earth, and is one of the world’s fastest growing brands. The initial brief was about how WWF could inspire people to take action on global warming without using fear. A simple idea was born – asking people to switch off the lights for one hour as a symbolic stand. Since then, many landmarks around the world have taken part, including the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and Buckingham Palace.

WWF is still deeply stereotyped as cute, cuddly and warm due to its iconic panda image. Earth Hour, on the other hand, continues to gain global recognition, and could be perceived as more competent and hard hitting due to its idea of taking action now. But does this matter to consumers or supporters?

Perhaps not directly. A classic text from Levy and Gardner, “The Product and the Brand”, was a revelation for the branding world. They made explicit for the first time that every advertisement must be considered as a contribution to the complex symbol of brand image – as part of the long-term investment in the reputation of brand. Both the panda and lights off images are powerful and different, yet they are not directly related. Brand managers must accept that consumers see a brand in totality, and consumers and other stakeholders play a huge role in shaping brand meaning. The two different personalities and tones of voice can cause confusion if there is no compelling reason to link them together over time.

In addition to consumer confusions, firms stereotyped as competent are more likely to increase buying behaviour when compared to firms stereotyped as warm. Consumers have greater admiration for firms with high levels of competence and warmth.  This may suggest some clear benefits for WWF to leverage some of the hard hitting and competent identity of the Earth Hour initiative.

Charities usually take a narrow approach to branding – managing external perceptions in return for fundraising success. In contrast, an emerging paradigm recognises brand as a strategic tool to achieve greater change and social impact. Dan Pallotta noted that too many charities are rewarded for how little they spend – not for what they get done. Using donations to fund advertising to raise awareness or change perception is still deeply frowned upon. We need to rethink the role of marketing and advertising and focus on how to start rewarding charities for their accomplishments despite a high marketing spend.

 

Macmillan Cancer Support is a great example of a charity that now uses its brand in a strategic way;  perhaps even behaving like a business by leveraging its warmth and increasing the perception of competency by implementing metrics and return on investments. They engaged in an organisational wide change process to shift negative perceptions of their iconic image, the Macmillan nurse. Although the association with nurses has been perceived as warm and instrumental to fundraising, over time they are perceived negatively as ‘angels of death’. And with a changing cancer story, Macmillan needed to change and transform as a ‘life force’ for cancer survivors. Hence, they have a new brand name and a ‘can do’ attitude to improve the lives of everyone affected by cancer. Fundraising increased by £26 million within two years of this change, and the charity was awarded The Marketing Society’s Brand of the Year in 2014.

A powerful charity brand can help to achieve social as well as fundraising goals, and we should be more open-minded about the role played by brand in fulfilling a charity’s purpose. WWF made remarkable progress when giant pandas were downgraded from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Vulnerable’. For this year’s Earth Hour, there is an effort to incorporate the giant panda image with the #pass the panda initiative, but in a rather ‘soft’ way. Following in Macmillan’s footsteps, WWF could potentially be much bolder in claiming Earth Hour as a WWF project, and one they are very proud of. To make the most of Earth Hour's success, and use the public buy-in to support its main charity objectives, WWF needs to find a coherent message that ties both brands together, because consumers are more likely to believe something when they see it as credible, authentic and relevant to them.

Image: Earth Hour 2016 Berlin by Phossil