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Donors Too Emotional for Charts and Graphs - UK Economist


9 February 2012 at 10:27 am
Staff Reporter
Individual giving is often irrational and ruled by emotion and a charity’s ‘cost benefit calculations’ don’t lead to bigger donations, according to a leading UK economist.

Staff Reporter | 9 February 2012 at 10:27 am


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Donors Too Emotional for Charts and Graphs - UK Economist
9 February 2012 at 10:27 am

Individual giving is often irrational and ruled by emotion and a charity’s ‘cost benefit calculations’ don’t lead to bigger donations, according to a leading UK economist.

Sir Howard Davies, former director of the London School of Economics, told a gathering of economists and charities that too much emphasis on charity “charts and graphs” can lead to donors being less likely to be generous.

Sir Howard delivered the the annual Pro Bono Economics 2012 lecture in London this week with the cheeky title of ‘Why do people give their money away and how can we stop them acting so irrationally?’

He warned that the fashionable emphasis on cost-benefit calculations may be, at best, a two-edged sword from a charity perspective.

He said: “Donors want to be inspired, moved and enthused, shown individual illustrations of the particular good they can do and never mind the size of the bucket”.

“Most of us have had quite enough rationality in our daily lives,” he said.

Sir Howard told the audience that from his own fundraising experience with the London School of Economics (LSE) he could see in retrospect that his intellectual approach triggered few large donations.

“At the LSE I could, and often did deliver a persuasive analysis of the School’s thin resource base in comparison with US competitors. I could point to the long-term decline in government funding and the overwhelming need to strengthen our sources of private funding.

“I had charts and graphs to prove every point. But in retrospect I can see that this intellectual approach triggered few large gifts.

“The personal stories told by students who could not otherwise attend the School at our scholars and donors events were far more compelling, as were individual academics who could enthuse a potential supporter about their own research project,” Sir Howard said.

“Giving behaviour is personal, and often quirky.”

A full transcript of Sir Howard Davies Pro Bono Economics 2012 lecture can be found here (PDF).
 

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One comment

  • Jill Ruchel Jill Ruchel says:

    This is so true. Individual stories are far more persuasive than dollars and cents, although rational arguments play a role for those who pretend to themselves that giving is a rational decision. Giving comes first from the heart. It’s based in compassion and empathy.

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