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Empathy seen as strong factor in donations

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Defying the long-held belief that people are selfish by nature, donors are more likely to contribute when fundraisers discuss how the contribution will help others, says a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Donors also responded better to negative emotions, such as shame, than they did to the possibility of benefiting themselves, the study says.

Robert J. Fisher of the University of Alberta, Mark Vandenbosch of the University of Western Ontario and Kersi Antia of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, examined scripts for pledge breaks at a public television station.

“The research findings suggest that viewers donated because they felt an obligation to do so – people expect self- or social censure if they don’t help when they feel empathy for a person or organization they care about,” says the study, titled “An Empathy-Helping Perspective on Consumers’ Responses to Fundraising Appeals.”

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