Social Influences on Giving


Social Influences On Giving

In this chapter, we introduced and described the social giving model. We discussed the meaning and the importance of a donor’s self-concept, and how other societal factors might influence giving through that self-concept. As a result of this understanding, fundraisers should be able to use social influence, social networks and social identities in the design of their fundraising communications.


A Social Giving Model

At the core of the social giving model is a person’s sense of who they are, i.e. their self-concept. As we explained in the individual model, no external information, be it societal or social, can influence people’s behavior without being processed by the individual actor. Therefore, it is of central importance that fundraisers obtain an accurate understanding of their donors’ self-concept. This understanding is more than the layman prescription of “understanding your donors”, it is about understanding the donors using the particular psychological principles outlined in this text.

Social Influences on Giving Image

The International Society for Self and Identity is an interdisciplinary association of social and behavioral scientists dedicated to the scientific study of the human self.

In addition, you will find several psychological tests related to self-concept here. Taking those tests yourself may help you better understand how they may help shaping your fundraising communications:

Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale

This scale is among the most widely used measures in social science research. It measures a positive or negative orientation towards one’s self. The link takes you to an interactive testing site, where you can take the test and obtain your score. The second link (click here) is an information website about how to interpret your score and the history of the scale. For those that are inteested the original reference is Rosenberg, Morris. 1989. Society and the Adolescent Self-Image. Revised edition. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Collective Self-Esteem (CSE & CSE_R) Scale

This scale measures people’s group identity. That is how much they perceive themselves as being a member of a group. It includes four components: membership self-esteem, private collective self-esteem, public collective self-esteem and importance to identity. Different from the general Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale, this scale measures one’s identification with particular groups like gender, ethnicity or as members of a nonprofit organization. This concept will be particularly relevant to our discussion of in-group and out-group memberships. It measures the degree to which one perceives oneself as an in-group member in a particular social group.

Self-Efficacy Scale

Self-efficacy is defined by Stanford’s psychology professor – Albert Bandura – as one’s beliefs about their capabilities of producing a designated level of performance that exercises influence over events that affect their lives. The link takes you to the academic journal article that included his self-efficacy scale. In order to obtain the original article (and the original scale), you will need to order it from your local library or log into a bibliograhic database. The original reference is: Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).


Societal Environment

The societal environment shapes donors’ sense of who they are. Elements included in this environment are history, philosophy, literature, religion, economy, culture and policy. This is by no means an exclusive list of all the factors in a society that could shape people’s self-concept. However, this is a worthwhile starting point for fundraisers to begin to understand their donors’ behavior.

Additional materials on the societal environment can be found here:


The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) is a multidisciplinary research community committed to enhancing the emerging field of nonprofit and philanthropic studies. It includes the following special interest groups: the Community and Grassroots Associations (CGA), the Pracademics section, the Social Entrepreneurship/Enterprise section, the Teaching section, the Theories, Issues, and Boundaries (TIBS) section and the Values, Religion, Altruism, and Drawbacks Section (VRADS). The annual conference of ARNOVA attracts researchers from all related academic disciplines. It is an excellent resource to provide you with a unique understanding about the society surrounding your donors.

The Nonprofit Academic Centers Council (NACC) is “a membership association comprised of academic centers or programs at accredited colleges and universities that focus on the study of nonprofit organizations, voluntarism and/or philanthropy”. You will find most of the relevant academic centers around the globe listed on its site.

Here are some of the centers.

Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Volunteering is a research center in the Netherlands on this topic. They are conducting a national survey on generosity in that country. Another academic center in the Netherlands is the Philanthropic Studies Department in the School of Social Science in the VU University.

The Australian Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit (CPNS)  is located in the School of Accountancy in the Faculty of Business at Queensland University of Technology.

The Centre for Civil Society Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong focuses its academic and consultancy research on civil society in China.


Social Environment

Social Influence

Here is a website that provides a rather intuitive explanation of what social influence is and a rather rich set of examples of how it is used in daily lives. For other popular, as well as more rigorous discussions on the topic by academic research centers, please go to the Social Psychology Network and follow the links under Social Influence. You can also find research centers on other related topics from this chapter, such as self and social identity.

Social capital is one type of social norm that has been widely studied not only by psychologists but sociologists around the globe. You will find information about social capital in the following sites:

Professor Robert Putnam studies and writes about social capital in the United States. His best selling books include Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community and Better Together: Restoring the American Community. You will find more information about his research on social capital as well as a radio interview on the topic here.

Professor Francis Fukuyama writes about social capital and civil society.

The late professor James S. Coleman also has his own theories about what social capital is and how it works in a society. You will find the citation of his seminal paper and all other academic papers that have ever referenced this paper as well as their abstracts here.

Social Networks

People give to help friends and families (not necessarily acquaintances), and people give to help friends and families who share the same interest (not necessarily the ones living in the same geographic area). In the textbook we explore how social network information can improve the level of giving and by how much. In the web links below, we provide you with some fundraising examples where organizations directly ask their supporters to ask friends for donations.

March for Babies is one of those organizations employing this social network fundraising technique. On one particular site, for example, a friend set up a donation site in the name of their daughter, Alicia Gunzelmann. They sent an email to the personal email accounts of friends, explaining the cause and providing the attached link.

JustGiving is an organization designed to help “ordinary people raise extraordinary amounts for charity”. It hosts events for individuals who raise money for nonprofit organizations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Cancer Research UK. As an example, the personal fundraising page of Professor Jane Hudson is provided here.

Social Identity

As you have noticed, once people give, be it in reaction to some social influence techniques, compliance to social norms, or perhaps helping friends through their social networks, people start to adopt an identity associated with the continuation of the behavior or the joining of a certain community or organization.

For example, users of the Justgiving website begin to refer to themselves as “JustGivers” and people who participate in charity runs starts to refer themselves as “Charity runners”. The adoption of these labels is important, because once people adopt these labels, they start to then behave in ways that are consistent with the expectations of such labels. JustGivers will continue to give and Charity runners will continue to run.

The academic research on this topic has mostly focused on the donation of blood. Psychology Professor John Dovidio from Yale University and Sociology Professor Jane Allyn Piliavain at University of Wisconsin Madison  are among the researchers who focus on studying the effect of role identity on donation behavior.


File Downloads

Identity Congruency Effects on Donations

The Impact of Downward Social Information on Contribution Decisions

Keeping Up with the Joneses: The Relationship of Perceived Descriptive Social Norms, Social Information and Charitable Giving


Recommended Reading


  •  Arumi, A. M., Wooden, R., Johnson J., Farkas S., Duffett A.  and Ott A. (2005) ‘The Charitable Impulse’, A Report from Public Agenda for the Kettering Foundation and Independent Sector.
  • Baron, R. S., Vandello, J. A., and Brunsman, B. (1996) ‘The Forgotten Variable in conformity Research: Impact of Task Importance on Social Influence’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol.  71, 915-27.
  • Baumeister, R. F., and Vohs, K.D. (2003) ‘Self-Regulation and the executive Function of the Self’, in Leary M. R., and Tangney J. P. (Eds.) Handbook of Self and Identity (197-217), New York, Guilford Press.
  • Bhattacharya, C. B., Rao, H., and Glynn, M. A. (1995) ‘Understanding the Bond of identification: An Investigation of its Correlates among Art Museum Members’, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 59, No. 4, 46-57.
  • Brewer, M. (1991) ‘The Social Self: On Being the Same and Different at the Same Time’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 17, No. 5, 475-82.
  • Burnkrant, R. E., and Cousineau, Al, (1975) ‘Informational and Normative Social Influence in Buyer Behavior’,Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 2, No. 3, 206-15.
  • Cialdini, R. B., Reno, R. R., and Kallgren, C. A. (1990) ‘A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Recycling the Concept of Norms to Reduce Littering in Public Places’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 58, 1015-26.
  • Croson, R., Handy, F., and Shang, J. (2009a) ‘The Relationship between Norms, Social Information and Subsequent Giving: Results from a Donor Survey and a Lab Experiment’, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, Vol. 19, No. 4, 467-89.
  • Croson, Rachel, Femida Handy and Jen Shang. Gender Difference in Norm Formation and Fundraising (2009). In Press in International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing.
  • Dutton, J. E., Dukerich, J. M., and Harquail, C. V. (1994) Organizational Images and Member Identification’,Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 39, 239-63.
  • Lott, A. J., and Lott, B.E. (1965) ‘Group Cohesiveness as Interpersonal Attraction: A Review of Relationships with Antecedent and Consequent Variables’, Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 40), 259-309.
  • Mael, F., and Ashforth, B.E.  (1992) ‘Alumni and Their Alma Mater: A Partial Test of the Reformulated Model of Organizational Identification’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 13, 103-23.
  • Markus, H. R. (1977) ‘Self-Schemata and Processing information about the Self’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 35, 63-78.
  • Martin, R., and Randal, J. (2008) ‘How is Donation Behaviour Affected by the Donations of Others?’, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Vol. 67, No. 1, 228-38.
  • Sargeant, A., and Shang, J. (2009) ‘Clear Insights: Philanthropic Psychology’, Advancing Philanthropy, June 2009, 29-33.
  • Sargeant A and Shang J (2008) Identification, Death and Bequest Giving, A Report to AFP and Legacy Leaders
  • Schwartz, S. (1994) ‘Are There Universal Aspects in the Structure and contents of Human Values?’, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 50, 19-45.
  • Shang, J., and Croson, R. (2009a) ‘Field Experiments in Charitable Contribution: The Impact of Social Influence on the Voluntary Provision of Public Goods’, In Press in The Economic Journal.
  • Shang, J., and Croson, R. (2009b) ‘The Effect of Social Networks on Charitable Giving’, Working Paper at Indiana University.
  • Silverman, E. (2008) ‘Building Your Base: Identifying Library Donors’, The Bottom Line, Vol. 21, No. 4, 138-41.
  • Stride, H. and Lee, S. (2007) ‘No Logo? No Way. Branding in the Non-Profit Sector’, Journal of Marketing Management, Vol., 23, No. 1-2, 107-12.
  • Turner, J.C. (1981) ‘Towards a Cognitive Redefinition of the Social Group’, Current Psychology of Cognition, Vol. 1, No. 2, 93-118.



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Charity and personal force are the only investments worth anything.

Walt Whitman