A new study, published today in Current Biology, digs into the competitive nature of online fundraising—and the link between visual effects and the wallet.
Oftentimes, global health innovation starts as an idea; an experiment; a vision for a better future. It takes hope and skill… And money.
The Current Biology article reveals previously undiscovered insight into what motivates people, especially men, to donate online.
The Visual Effect
Specifically, the study found that men donate four times more money, in an online environment, to females they deem attractive and in response to donations made by other men. Lead author Nichola Riahani, PhD, of University College London told nuviun that the study:
builds on a former study done by co-author Sarah Bristol, PhD, which shows that donations on a fundraising page act as an 'anchor' for subsequent donations. That means that donors use the donations of others as a guide for how much to give. My background in evolutionary biology made me realize that there was a possibility that there may be some element of competition going on as well. The theory of competitive helping predicts that individuals will use competitively 'altruistic' displays to signal to attractive partners. While theoretically plausible, firm evidence for responsive competitive helping was hitherto lacking.
The theory of competitive helping or competitive altruism assumes that people tend to give more generously when they have an audience. Certainly donors that give through crowdfunding sites have a potentially wide audience. Riahani and Bristol took this idea one step further, to see if gender and attractiveness impact competitive helping.
A Tournament of Giving
The researchers tested an important element of the competitive helping theory: “that males respond competitively to the generosity bids of other males in the presence of attractive females.” They looked specifically at an online fundraising platform from the UK, where individual fundraising pages include their names, pictures, and the charity, and collect donations. As donations come in, they are posted on the site sequentially, along with the donor’s name.
This creates a potential tournament in which donors may compete by responding to how much others have given,
Results indicate that, regardless of gender, more attractive fundraisers raise more money than their less attractive counterparts. Male donors gave significantly more when they were donating to an attractive, female fundraiser, and when responding to large donations from other males.
However, this does not hold true for female donors. Evolutionarily, this could be because men tend to select mates based on physical characteristics of fertility, while women look for resource acquisition and indications of cooperativeness in mates.
The researchers note that competitive helping may not necessarily be conscious.
We don’t think that males are seeing large donations from other males to attractive female fundraisers, and then thinking ‘Yeah, I’ll give more than him because she will find me more attractive then.’ In fact, I think that is quite unlikely,
I think it is more likely that humans have an evolved psychology that motivates us to behave in ways that would have been, on average, adaptive in our evolutionary past—and may still be nowadays also.
Online Fundraising Tips from the Experts
nuviun asked Raihani if she had any advice, based on her research, for health innovators looking to raise money online. She told nuviun:
Our research highlights the importance of putting a good profile picture on your fundraising page: in particular one where the fundraiser is smiling as we found that people who were smiling in their picture were perceived as more attractive than non-smilers. Also the data suggest that getting people who are likely to make large donations (e.g., family, very close friends, etc.) to give first is a good idea because these large donations encourage others to also give more.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.