Those Selfish Philanthropists!

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January 12, 2012; Source: Wall Street Journal | A recent study on the way people view donors can be filed in the same place as the article we recently covered suggesting that the more analytic donors are, the less they give.

Researchers from Cornell University and the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business provided 200 students with ten profiles of givers (of time or money), along with a photograph that may or may not have been of the actual person. Next, the students were asked to look again at five of the cases. Then, they were asked to rate all ten on a selfishness/unselfishness scale of one to ten. Overall, the students were somewhat cynical, rating the profiles at an average of six out of ten (with ten being very unselfish). But those they thought about for longer got a 5.5. Apparently, the longer they contemplated the donor, the more they saw self-interest or another unflattering motive. The comments of the students cited here were interesting.

“I don’t know exactly what’s causing his ‘generosity,’ but the longer I look at [his] smile, the more I realized it was sinister,” said one.

“Giving $50 million to fund a hospital, which no doubt has their family name on it, is a great form of free advertising,” another student stated.

Clayton Critcher, the study’s lead researcher and an assistant professor of marketing at Haas, says that this indicates that donors may not want to soak up too much press time.

“You may actually get the greatest benefit by not harping on it or getting too much coverage for too long,” says Critcher.

I don’t want to harp on this for too long either.—Ruth McCambridge

  • jack Shakely

    You’ve just sent a chill through every foundation communications director in America, but I think the Bible had it right- “Let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing in alms-giving.” And just think of all those self-congratulatory annual reports we wouldn’t have to read.

  • thefreeman

    So giving money or time is “sinister” if the motivation is ego centered? So would one then refuse the money? Let’s be grateful for all acts of generosity and, as long as we are free to use donations as needed, leave the benefactors egos out of it.