Understanding Donor Behavior: a Classification Paradigm

Jane R. Ziegler Sojka, The Wichita State University
ABSTRACT - The "business" of donating to non-profit institutions is a multi-million dollar enterprise yet, relatively little quantifiable research has been done on the topic. This paper investigates motivations behind monetary donations to non-profit organizations by examining related research on altruism, socially conscious behavior, social status behavior, and non-altruism within the gift-giving context. What emerges is a proposed paradigm categorizing donors on the basis of their internal values and overt behavior.
[ to cite ]:
Jane R. Ziegler Sojka (1986) ,"Understanding Donor Behavior: a Classification Paradigm", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 240-245.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 240-245


Jane R. Ziegler Sojka, The Wichita State University


The "business" of donating to non-profit institutions is a multi-million dollar enterprise yet, relatively little quantifiable research has been done on the topic. This paper investigates motivations behind monetary donations to non-profit organizations by examining related research on altruism, socially conscious behavior, social status behavior, and non-altruism within the gift-giving context. What emerges is a proposed paradigm categorizing donors on the basis of their internal values and overt behavior.


Monetary donations to nonprofit organizations result in a substantial amount of money. According to American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel's recent figures, over $60.39 billion is donated to nonprofit organizations annually. In terms of financial clout, nonprofit organizations in the U.S. are indeed, big business and therefore totally appropriate as topics within the marketing and consumer behavior field.

This paper's purpose is to examine the phenomenon of individual donations to nonprofit institutions. Because so very little previous research has been applied directly to the fund-raising discipline, it is first necessary to provide a theoretical basis for explaining its consumers' behavior. As a result of examining the related topics of altruism, socially conscious behavior, social status behavior, and what could be termed non-altruism, or hedonic, self-satisfying responses, as well as related research on gift-giving behavior and attendance at non-profit entertainment events, a theoretical framework for explaining the phenomenon of donor behavior will be presented. Possible hypotheses suitable for empirical testing will be suggested for further research.


Despite the substantial size and potential market of philanthropy in the United States, relatively little empirical research has been conducted in this area. (Desruisseaux 1985) As Sherry (1983) notes, "Gift exchange between the individual and the corporate group is less frequently described and less perfectly understood than other types of giving; research into philanthropy is still in its infancy." Some of the reasons for this lack of research may be purely pragmatic. Sherry attributes the slow growth in this area to the inability to access data. (Sherry 1983). Harmful public relations could result from an institution using contributed funds to research how to raise even more money rather than utilizing the funds for their intended purpose. Father Flanagan's Boys Town, for example, has long been acknowledged for raising money more successfully than for raisins boys. (Shapiro 1973)

From a broader perspective, Smith (1979) suggests the lack of research stems from nonprofit organizations not being traditionally considered as business enterprises and therefore not applicable to marketing and consumer behavior analysis. Probably the moat outspoken advocate of expanding the marketing realm to include a variety of nonbusiness organizations such as social services and nonprofit organizations is Kotler (1975, Fox and Kotler 1980), who views the study of donors to non-profit institutions as having potential for eventually shedding light on their motivation for giving.

Lastly, the oversight of non-prof4t organizations in marketing research may, in fact, be the unique nature of the product and consumer process. As Holbrook (1980) points out, the majority of marketing research is directed towards products such as "corn flakes and frozen orange juice and potato chips that nobody spends very much tine seeking information about, that nobody wastes much time deliberating over, and that nobody exerts much effort shopping for, because, frankly, these are products about which consumers really just don't give a damn." Note the sharp contrast between his description of non-durable consumer products with the potential emotion, attitudes, and decision processes (Clarke and Belk 1976) that an individual may go through in the gift-giving process.

Insufficient research on consumer behavior within the donation context, makes it necessary to examine the literature on gift-giving to devise some parallel situations. Initial research into the gift-giving dynamics indicates that the process comprises a unique sub-category of consumer behavior. Belk's research on the gift-giving process led him to conclude that n here can be little doubt that gift-giving is a pervasive experience in human life and consumer behavior." Compared to more routine consumer purchases, gift selection is a very deliberate and highly involving type of consumer choice: frequently entailing a much greater expenditure of time and money than a purchase to used by the buyer. (Belk, 1976, 1981) Furthermore, the situation or occasion surrounding the gift presentation and consumption (such as the relationship between the buyer and receiver) may play a major role in the importance placed on the decision process. (Belk 1975) Hence, in order to accurately examine g.ft-giving behavior, it is necessary to review situational and motivational effects as well as cultural and social pressure.


In spite of the overall dearth of information on donor behavior, several interesting and viable frameworks for understanding the field have been proposed. Banks (1979) suggests a gift-giving paradigm that outlines the stages of consumer behavior in the gift-giving context. The consumer moves through four stages--the purchase stage, the inter-action/exchange stage, the consumption stage, and the communication/ feedback stage--in her conception of the gift-giving process. While her paradigm represents the gift-exchange process, it does not explain the process of donor behavior. Although the selection of the gift and its consumption play a significant part in the gift-exchange process, in most nonprofit organizations, however, these two variables play minor roles. For example, a donor may merely write a check, not shop and select a particular girt. In addition, most small donations are merely mailed to the organization without any elaborate exchange process. Furthermore, the consumption stage, where the receiver uses the gift, can only be imagined by the typical university donor; the results of a $20.00 donation can be literally imperceivable. Thus Banks' paradigm sheds little light on the particular situation of donor behavior.

Assuming reciprocity towards balanced giving in the long-run, Belk (1976) proposes a balanced digraph between the giver, the receiver, the gift, and the giver's self-concept. It the giver likes the receiver as well as the gift and has a positive self-perception, then the gift exchange will be satisfying. While strict reciprocity in the donor setting is difficult to conceptualize, nonetheless, the balance notion that Belk proposes coupled with the concept of cognitive consistency could be applicable to the proposed paradigm. For an altruistic person to want his name to appear in a directory of donors so that he could be recognized in the community comprises behavior clearly at conflict with altruistic motives. To the extent that the internal and external donor behavior must be consistent or balanced, the Belk model can be somewhat applicable to the donor process.

Scott Smith (1979) offers one of the few consumer behavior models dealing directly with charitable donations. Somewhat comparable to the proposed model, Smith suggests a range of donor behavior on a continuum from altruistic to what he terms hedonic. He sees charitable giving as a developmental process leading to the internalization of beliefs about charitable donations. Hence individuals may move-through a series of stages related to giving to a specific organization. If considered as a steady state, his paradigm is reasonable and his suggested market strategies have valuable implications for fund-raisers. Yet, the actual movement of people through a "developmental process" which "increases the degree of internalization of attitude" as he terms it, is difficult to substantiate both in theory and research.

The beliefs, according to Fishbein (1975), essential to forming attitudes inherent in altruistic and nonaltruistic behavior, share no compatibility according to existing research. Hence, Smith does not propose a simple strengthening and reinforcement of an individual's affect toward donations, but rather suggests a total shift in the individual's value structure and attitude towards charitable contributions. As Smith and Swinyard (1983) demonstrated, it is extremely difficult, even perhaps impossible to change attitudes by advertising alone. Likewise, it is difficult to conceptualize why a non-altruistic person, perfectly content in his hedonic satisfaction and status recognition, would have any motivation to suddenly become altruistic. Furthermore, the organization soliciting his donation should be relatively unconcerned with altering his reason for donating as long as the donation is consistent; hence there is little motivation on the institution's part, contrary to Smith's hypothesis, to move donors from the non-altruistic mode to an altruistic behavior unless a substantial difference in the size or consistencY of the donation exists.

Although professional fund-raisers frequently work under Smith's premise that- donors can be moved along a continuum, initial research indicates that donor patterns do not substantiate this thesis. In their study of consumer dynamics in nonprofit organizations, Ryans and Weinberg (1978) hypothesized an entry pattern divided into stages: first the individual would start as a single ticket holder, then he would purchase several tickets in a season, and finally, he would become a season ticket holder. This is much the same pattern of donations suggested by Smith. In reality, what Ryans and Weinberg found were three basic categories of subscribers: continual subscribers (32%), gradual subscribers following the hypothesized pattern (31%), and an almost equally large category of sudden subscribers (36%) who suddenly subscribed without any prior attendance or who exhibited a miscellaneous attendance pattern. Perhaps the different categories of behavior merely represent behavior pattern segments based on the proposed altruistic/non-altruistic model.


Although each of the existing frameworks shed light on the subject from various perspectives, each is incomplete with regard to a more narrow focus on donation behavior within the context of nonprofit development. Hence, it becomes necessary to review literature from a variety of academic disciplines to enrich and enlarge the research currently in existence.

On the most positive side, gift-giving can be perceived as purely altruistic in nature. According to Krebs (1970) most behavioral research skirts the problem of defining altruism by employing operational definitions. Leeds (1963) defines altruistic behavior as: an end in itself, not directed at gain; emitted voluntarily; and doing good. Sherry, (1983) however, defines altruistic behavior as the donor's "attempt to maximize the pleasure of the recipient." Within the context of this paper, altruism shall be defined as a donor's voluntary act which benefits the recipient. Note that there is no indication of "self" in this definition: the emphasis is on the intention to please the exchange partner.

Most of the altruistic behavior research has been m psychology theory and has largely investigated the link between altruism and personality. Krebs (1970) saw altruism as an important personality attribute in that people reacted differently to individuals who were considered altruistic as opposed to those who were considered selfish.

As KassarJian (1971) points out, analysts do not agree on any general definition of the term 'personality' except to somehow relate it to the concept of consistent responses of the individual to the surrounding environment. The definition controversy comprises just the tip of the iceberg in terms of problems with personality research. Methodologically, perhaps consumers do not tell us about themselves as they really are, but rather as an ideal, as Wells (1966) suggests. In addition, KassarJian (1971) theorizes that personality researchers ignore the many interrelated influences on the consumer process such as pricing, packaging, group influences, and learned responses. He cautions personality researchers that "to expect the influence of personality variables to account for large portion of the variance is most certainly asking too much." Indeed, Pessemier, Bemmaor, and Hanssens (1977) could substantiate only a weak correlation between personality variables and the likelihood that an individual will donate body parts.

Furthermore, it is difficult to justify altruistic behavior in terms of the majority of psychological theory. Freud's psychoanalytic theory contends that children are basically selfish. In addition, both Pavlov's classical learning theory and Skinner's stimulus response theory are based on the individual receiving some type of reward for behavior. While rewards may certainly play an important role in the sociological and cultural theories of gift-giving, the extreme sense of altruism as defined with the context of this paper, specifically negates the behavior for the sake-of a reward.

Perhaps the lack of altruistic behavior inherent in psychological theory stems from preliminary research on animals. Rats, for example, press a bar less when it served to terminate a companion rat's pain than when it did not. Furthermore, rats exposed to a shocked companion crouched in fear at the other end of their cages leading Krebs (1970) to conclude that rats supply "no real support for altruism.t Perhaps Campbell's (1975) research on conflicts between biological and social evolution offers the best explanation for the apparent lack of altruism in human nature. Se sees "human urban social complexity" as a product of social evolution which has had to "counter with inhibitory moral norms the biological selfishness which genetic competition has continually selected." He concludes that the effects of society have encouraged altruistic behavior: not inherent personal characteristics.


Closely related to altruism but with an awareness of societal needs is a category of behavior directed towards society at large and exemplified by the "socially conscious consumer." Definitions of the socially conscious consumer vary according to researcher. Nonetheless, they all generally accept that this type of behavior is enacted in an effort to help others or bring about presumably beneficial social changes. Webster (1983) defines the socially conscious consumer as one "who takes into account the public consequences of his or her private consumption or who attempts to use his or her purchasing power to bring about social change." Similarly, Brooker (1976) defines socially conscious consumers to be "the group whose actions lead the way to an improving quality of life in society." Finally, Anderson and Cunningham (1972) use the operational definition of the Berkowitz and Daniels Social Responsibility Scale to define socially conscious as "the willingness of an individual to help other persons even when there is nothing to be gained for himself." For the purposes of this paper, a socially conscious consumer will be defined as one whose actions are directed towards benefiting society. Types of behavior exhibited by socially conscious individuals include financial contributions to religious and educational institutions, active participation in community, church, or other organizations, and intense interest in politics.

It is very important to note, however, a few subtle differences between supposedly altruistic behavior and socially conscious behavior; First of all, the very term, socially conscious, suggests the influence of social awareness. While this may be perceived as either social pressure or a need for social change, socially conscious individuals remain very sensitive to their social surroundings: a variable totally excluded in the consideration of altruistic behavior. In addition, while socially conscious behavior may appear to be motivated by purely unselfish desires, since the society benefits which includes the individual, the individual will also benefit. Hence, socially conscious behavior may, in fact, be some what motivated by simultaneous self-interest as well social interest.

Similar to the limited research on altruism, the research on socially conscious consumers also suggests that demographics compose a poor predictor variable. Anderson and Cunningham (1972) and Kinnear, Taylor, and Ahmed (1974) determined socio-psychological variables to be most effective when attempting to differentiate between low and high socially conscious consumers. They describe the high social responsibility group as more cosmopolitan, less alienated, less dogmatic, less status S conscious, and personally competent than the group exhibiting low social consciousness. Webster (1975) differentiates socially conscious consumers as individuals willing to engage in purchase behavior that may or may not be popularly accepted but which is consistent with his or her own standards of responsibility. Socially conscious consumers may be considered members of the upper middle class counter culture, but, according to Webster's research, they "operate at a rather low key."

The psychological theory that may best account for socially conscious behavior is Maslow's (1970) self-actualizing theory of personality; the closer one becomes to being self-actualizing, the freer one becomes of selfish, neurotic self-concerns. Self-actualizing individuals, while not negating their own concerns, will nevertheless consider the needs of others. Note that Maslow does not describe altruistic behavior as I have defined it: the very fact that self-actualized individuals take their own needs into account indicated non-altruism.

Maslow's theory is more applicable to socially conscious behavior than the majority of psychological theories were to altruism, yet several aspects exist where the research and the theory do not seem to coincide. While Maslow's self-actualized individuals seem to be totally oblivious to societal needs, socially conscious consumers appear to be very aware of societal expectations and the fact that they may be exhibiting nonconforming behavior. While socially conscious consumers may not be affected by social pressures such as conforming to societal expectations, they remain keenly aware that those social pressures exist.


Social influences can play still another significant role in the gift-giving process. Previous research suggests that gift-giving behavior represents an individual's response to peer pressure in the effort to maintain a social role or image. Belk (1975) believes that one of the most influential situational variables is the social situation: the group's structure and the role requirements surrounding the gift-giving behavior. Goodenough (1969) labels Belk's "role requirements" as statuses: "what legal theorists call rights, duties, privileges, powers, liabilities and immunities." Bence social status behavior can be defined as an individual's actions to maintain or establish a status position within a self-selected group of people. Gift-giving in this context becomes a form of maintaining one's position or status within one's peer group.

How is status maintained? Levy (1959) hypothesizes that there are many symbols of social participation. "Most goods say something about the social world of the people who consume them." Be goes on to assert that cars "say prominent things about their owners," and that the possessions "are partly chosen to attest to their social positions." Levy (1981) believes the effect of peer influence to be so overwhelming that "individual choice behavior is almost irrelevant." Hence, according to this stream of research, status can be maintained and publicly displayed through an individual's purchases.

Perhaps the clearest example of social influence is clothing (T. Smith 1974, Holman 1980). In her study of the formation of aesthetic criteria through social structures and social institutions, Wallendorf (1979) found that the determination of "what's in fashion" is largely determined by the individual's peer group. Smith (1979) found similarly that the effects of peer influence not only influence the individual's decision, but also "reduce the amount of information individuals require to make a judgment of others." Belk, Bahn, and Mayer (1982) found that even grade school children could identify certain products with a particular social class thus implying the extent to which consumption symbolism recognition occurs in our society.

Preliminary research indicates the effects of social influence on consumer behavior may be substantial. This research coupled with the previously cited studies on the importance of situational variables (such as the relationship of the gift-giver and receiver, and the status of people who will be present when the gift will be received and consumed) suggests that an individual's social status and image may have a profound effect on the selection, presentation, consumption, and reciprocity of the gift-exchange process. It is important to note that social role behavior dealing with interpersonal relationships is entirely separate and distinct from the socially conscious, altruistic behavior directed towards society at large.


Completely opposite from altruism is a gift-giving behavior that could be generally classified as nonaltruistic. As the name implies, non-altruism comprises beliefs and values purely hedonic and self-satisfying in nature: totally contradictory to the self-less nature of altruistic behavior. Hirschman and Holbrook, (1982) and Day (1983) define hedonism as an individual's ego-involvement with the fantasy and emotive aspects of the product. Sherry (1983) identifies non-altruism as agnostic behavior in which the donor attempts to maximize personal satisfaction. For the purposes of this paper, non-altruism is defined as an individual's actions designed to reward himself with self-satisfaction and pleasure.

The preeminent expert on gift-giving behavior in this context is the French anthropologist sociologist Marcel Mauss. His theory on gift-giving, specifically the exchange of gifts in a cultural context, centers around the principle of reciprocity and obligation. Mauss (1954) suggests that while a gift is generously offered, the accompanying behavior is formal pretence and social deception; in fact, the transaction itself is based on obligation and economic self-interest.

Mauss's description of girt-giving behavior sounds like the typical American lament of overly commercialized Christmases, Easters, and other sacred holidays. However, this potentially "selfish" phenomenon is by no means limited to our culture. Ruth Benedict (1934) discovered an elaborate exchange system in the culture of the Northwest coast Indians who inhabited the narrow strip by the Pacific from Alaska to Puget Sound. Their potlatch, according to Levi-Strauss, (1971) involves a triple function of returning gifts formerly received with proper interest, establishing the public claim of a family's title or status, and surpassing a rival in generosity. Mauss (1954) found similar evidence of a rivalry where contracting parties rival each other with gifts. The French, for example, compete with each other in their ceremonial gifts, parties, weddings, and invitations, and feel bound to reciprocate with a more lavish ceremony.

The purpose of the gift in a non-altruistic context may serve a variety of intentions. Schwartz (1967) perceives the gift as an extension of the self that plays a role in the establishment and maintenance of an individual's status. The public display of "I gave" stickers on doors, and "blood donor" pins publicizes the individual's donations. Social rankings are also reflected in and maintained by the gift. The list of donors published in an arts program or sports program with people delineated into different "categories" depending upon the size of their donation provides a classic example. Levi-Strauss (1971) places the gift-giving process in an even more self-aggrandizing context by discussing gifts as mere instruments for power in a skillful game of exchange complete with a complexity of maneuvers, "to gain security, and to fortify one's self against risks incurred through alliances and rivalry." Hubert and Mauss (1964) postulate that the sacrificial nature of gift-giving exists primarily to alleviate guilt. Finally, Belk (1976) suggests the obligation to give is based on moral, religious imperatives, recognition and maintenance of a status hierarchy, or the expectation of reciprocal giving.

Inherent in the non-altruistic view of giving is the concept of reciprocity. The purpose of many gift exchanges is to receive an equivalent gift immediately or at a later date. Gift exchanges at Christmas and on birthdays illustrate the former and the later. Belk's (1976) signed digraph of gift-giving represents a model based on the premise of reciprocal balance between the giver, receiver, gift, and giver's self-concept.


What emerges as a result of examining the various philosophies about the gift-giving process is a descriptive paradigm (see figure 1) classifying donor behavior into two basic categories: altruistic and non-altruistic.


The paradigm was originally conceived as representing monetary donations to non-profit organizations; however, with modifications, it could be applicable to donations of time or goods. The relationship between the donor and the recipient organization is specifically left nebulous. In some cases, an interpersonal relationship may exist, such as in the case of an alumnus donating to his/her alma mater in memory of a favorite professor, but in other cases, the relationship is less specific. For example, many people WhO donate to higher education athletic departments who have no connection to the school other than their enjoyment of the sporting events.

Within each category, two separate distinctions can be made between internal processes and the external manifestation of these processes. The altruistic giver's chief concern is taking care Or, or pleasing, the gift receiver: behavior manifested in a variety of observable behavior patterns which illustrate the altruistic's concern for his fellow man. Overt behavior expected of a person exhibiting altruistic tendencies approximates that of the socially conscious consumer; making financial contributions to a variety of religious, social, and educational institutions, volunteering time, or offering blood donations would be consistent with expected behavior.

Since the internal motivation for non-altruistic donors is primarily hedonistic in nature, their overt behavior would be entirely different from that observed from altruistic types. For example, peer pressure and the maintenance of a status position figures prominently into non-altruistic behavior. Thus, a great deal of recognized group behavior would be expected. Non-altruistic donors to a nonprofit theatrical event, for example, would likely desire their name in a program to be read by others attending the event. For university athletic donors, a special parking place close to the stadium would indicate that they are significant donors. Attendance at sporting events, membership in alumni associations, and the wearing of clothing items proudly bearing the school's insignia are external "symbols" of the individual's status.

The proposed paradigm has value to both researchers and practitioners in the field. It aids researchers by focusing the subject area into somewhat more manageable proportions. The diversity between altruistic and nonaltruistic behavior provides fertile ground for separate, in-depth analysis of these segments: thus allowing the researcher to concentrate on one type of behavior in much greater detail.

This paradigm also suggests a possible segmentation of the practitioner's audience allowing a manipulation of marketing mix variables to more effectively target potential donors. It would be extremely difficult to obtain accurate information on donor's feelings towards altruism or non-altruism: very few people would be willing to admit to hedonistic or status maintenance impulses. In addition, non-profit organizations do not like to "bother" their constituents with potentially controversial surveys. Yet it may be possible to identify these segments by the overt behavior hypothesized by the proposed paradigm. Hence-this paradigm could result in more effective fund raising for practitioners in the field.


The proposed model generates several empirically testable hypotheses.

H1: Donors can be divided into two groups--altruistic or non-altruistic--depending upon their motivation for giving .

The appropriate methodology--a combination survey examining overt behavior such as donations to other charitable causes, volunteer activities, membership in alumni or sports clubs, public display of school symbols such as hats, t-shirts, bumper stickers combined with the administration of a psychological test such as the Berkowitz and Daniels Social Responsibility Scale could assist in empirically validating the two groups.

H2: A larger percentage of donors are motivated by nonaltruistic motivations than altruistic motives.

Using research methods similar to those proposed for H1, it would be relatively easy to determine membership ratios between the two groups. Once validated, one could determine if any differences between the size of donation or consistency of donations over time existed between the two groups and adjust marketing mix variables accordingly.

H3: Donors motivated by non-altruistic reasons are more likely to be influenced by the tangible benefits produced by their donations than their altruistic counterparts.

Tangible benefits, somewhat similar to conspicuous consumption, are symbolic products signifying the individual's attachment to, or status within, the recipient organization. Typical tangible benefits that might be derived from donating to a non-profit organization include: being named as a patron in an event program, receiving special seats or a special parking place for athletic events, or even naming a building after the donor

H4: The gift-giving principle of reciprocity is also prevalent in non-profit donations through tangible as well as intangible means.

Although the lines of reciprocity are much more clear-cut in gift-giving situations where an individual is expected to exchange Christmas gifts with his/her siblings, it is hypothesized that a similar exchange occurs during a donation in a less concrete form. For example, the tangible benefits that a donor receives from a nonprofit organization can also be translated into non-tangible benefits that satisfy an individual's particular need for affiliation, status, or perpetuity.

The testing of these and related hypotheses would help the development organization segment their constituents for more efficient solicitation. In addition, they can provide valuable insight to direct further research in this area.


The limitations of this initial research must be noted. The lack of literature quoted on the donation process, indicates this research represents the beginning of what Hunt (1983) would call the discovery stage in the scientific process of understanding, describing and ultimately predicting donor behavior. Classifying donors into one of two categories grossly oversimplifies the nonprofit donation phenomenon, but is totally necessary given the current stage of research.

The proposed paradigm only suggests a correlation between observed behavior and an individual's internal values and does not attempt to establish a cause or effect relationship between the two. Additional research would be necessary to investigate and explain this relationship.


As illustrated by the diverse and eclectic collection of relevant theories borrowed from other disciplines, like much of consumer behavior theory, development theory also lacks an unified approach. Although part of this diversification is due to the lack of research in the area and will undoubtedly become more cohesive in time, nonetheless, before this research can move out of the exploratory stage and become a bonafide theory by Hunt's (1983) definition. a consensus overview must be reached.

From this brief review of various disciplines appropriate to the study on donor behavior, perhaps the literature on gift-giving and gift exchanges is most appropriate and should be pursued in greater detail. While the research on altruism-- from the psychological, sociological, as well as anthropological is intriguing and complimentary to the human species, there are several problems with the concept. First of all, while definitions are frequently not agreed upon by researchers within a field, the definition of altruism is a particularly sticky issue. Within the confines of this paper, a very narrow definition of altruism, totally negating any feelings for nv

was used. The very fact that it is a self-less act may raise an individual's self-worth, thereby producing a personal gain. Hence, one could effectively argue that true altruism in the narrow definition of a totally selfless act, does not exist. Defining altruistic behavior then becomes an even grayer area--is behavior that is simultaneously beneficial to recipient and donor considered altruistic? How would the cut-off between altruistic and non-altruistic behavior be established? In addition, the lack of quantifiable observable behavior in animals, and the connection between donor behavior and personality, another nebulous term with its own methodological problems and concerns, tends to indicate that altruistic research should not be of primary concern during the initial stages of donor-behavior research.

In examining non-altruistic behavior in greater detail, several areas need to be addressed. First of all, in the context of gift-giving behavior, the concept of reciprocity is of primary importance. The question of reciprocity and the role that it plays in donor behavior must be addressed in greater detail. I strongly suspect that reciprocity between donor and recipient occurs, but on a much-more symbolic, intangible level than that which happens during a gift exchange or potlatch.

Relating to the reciprocity question is the concept of the symbolic product that is exchanged in the donation process. Status, a sense of affiliation, increased self-worth as well as other psychological needs could be satisfied by an individual's donation. Understanding these key issues would undoubtedly enhance the research currently underway.

Methodologically, research into development activities desperately needs quantifiable data subJected to rigorous statistical analysis to support or refute proposed hypotheses. As previously stated, data on donors are difficult to obtain, yet as this stream of research progresses and as practitioners become more aware of the value of research, perhaps data will become more readily available. Quantifiable research accurately accessing the predictability of demographic data, which is predominately used in development organizations, as well as accessing other variables that might prove to be more accurate predictors of donor participation would be extremely beneficial to both practitioners and academicians. In addition, Just as 95% of a company's sales are frequently derived from only 5% of its customers, so too runs development donations. Hence, it would be extremely important to differentiate between large and small donors so that development resources may be efficiently utilized.


This preliminary research helps to shed some light on the donation phenomenon. Yet, the need for additional research concerning donor behavior as well as gift-giving behavior can not be over-stressed. As a result of examining the literature from a variety of appropriate disciplines, a donor categorization paradigm based on donor intentions and observed behavior is proposed. Not only will further investigation in this area be welcomed by practitioners in the field, but it may also help in the overall understanding of consumer behavior.


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