Charity appeals have a positive overall influence on the wellbeing of the groups they target, even though people who do not donate might experience some negative effects, according to a new study.
The study, The Emotional Consequences of Donation Opportunities, is believed to be the first research into whether charity appeals have a negative effect on those who choose not to donate or give only small amounts.
Published in The Journal of Positive Psychology in April, the study says that although those who donated little or no money in response to a donation opportunity experienced some negative effects, such as falling positive emotions, those who chose to donate large amounts experienced significant benefits to their wellbeing. This translated to a net positive influence on wellbeing for the entire group.
The 287 students who participated in the study were asked to donate a small amount of money they won participating in a game. Benefits to large donors included an increase in happiness, pride, positive emotions and a fall in negative emotions.
"Given that the majority of our sample donated a large proportion of their winnings to charity and experienced emotional rewards, the overall impact of presenting a donation opportunity was positive," the study says.
"The emotional benefits outweigh the emotional costs, suggesting that donation opportunities provide an opportunity for people to help others and experience a boost in wellbeing from doing so."
The study says that if the appeal had not led to negative consequences for non-donors and low-donors and there were gains for large donors, the opportunity to give would have seemed to be an "unalloyed good".
But it warns that the negative wellbeing consequences for non-donors and low-donors mean it will be necessary to find an appropriate way of measuring and comparing the gains of donors against the emotional losses of the low-donors and non-donors.
The study notes that it is possible that similar outcomes might occur in response to non-monetary charity campaigns, such as requests to assist with community clean-up initiatives or to volunteer at local shelters for homeless people.
It says, however, that caution should be exercised when extrapolating from this single, small-scale investigation to the real world because the study was carried out on undergraduate students, who do not represent the large range of adults targeted by donation requests, and because participants were asked to donate money they had received participating in the study rather than their own cash.
The study was carried out by John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia, Lara Aknin of the Simon Fraser University, also located in British Columbia, and Guy Mayraz of the University of Melbourne in Australia.