Charities with low brand awareness could boost their fundraising by exposing prospective donors to roughly textured material before asking them to give, according to research from universities in the US, Canada and China.
The study, Experiencing Haptic Roughness Promotes Empathy, produced by researchers at the Drexel University in Philadelphia, the University of British Columbia and the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, said that people were found to be more likely to be sympathetic to the suffering of others after exposure to rough textures.
This made them more likely to give to charity, but only if the charity was not one they had already heard of, researchers found.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology last November, reported on a range of experiments in which students were exposed to rough and smooth textures, such as exfoliating hand cream and a moisturising hand cream, sandpaper-covered surfaces and smooth surfaces.
In one experiment, 20 students were asked if they would be willing to donate to charity – either a well-known charity or one they had never heard of – while holding a clipboard with a rough surface. Another 20 were given a clipboard to hold with a smooth surface and asked the same question.
Of those who held the rough clipboard, 26 per cent said they would be prepared to donate to a charity they had never heard of, compared with only 3 per cent of those holding a smooth clipboard.
The texture of the clipboard had no effect on participants’ willingness to donate to the well-known charities.
The report’s authors, Chen Wang, Rui (Juliet) Zhu and Todd Handy, said: "Our findings suggest that incidental exposure to rough haptic sensations has the capacity to systematically heighten our propensity for empathy.
"This research certainly offers important implications for charitable institutions and particularly those that are less known and struggling with limited donation rates."
The report said that charities could enhance their fundraising by incorporating roughness into their fundraising materials – for example, by wrapping a clipboard in sandpaper or including certain roughly textured material in their direct-mail brochures.
But it said further research would be needed to tell how long the effect would last – for example, would someone who used a rough hand cream in the morning still be more likely to donate in the afternoon than someone who had not – and what the optimum level of roughness would be.