To Give Or Not to Give: Is That the Question?


Sally Hibbert and Suzanne Horne (1995) ,"To Give Or Not to Give: Is That the Question?", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Flemming Hansen, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 179-182.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1995      Pages 179-182


Sally Hibbert, University of Stirling

Suzanne Horne, University of Stirling


Changes in the charity environment mean that fundraisers need to increase income from donations. They now recognise that it is no longer sufficient to simply use marketing techniques to develop effective campaigns but that they need to develop an understanding of their donors. Literature on donor behaviour to date focuses largely on donor motivations. This paper argues that, to move forward, donor behaviour research needs to consider the logical process of "how" people make donations in order not to lose sight of the reality of donation occasions. It traces developments in consumer decision making research and suggests that the more recent models of the consumer decision process, which emphasise the importance of situational determinants of behaviour are most relevant to the investigation of donation behaviour.


Since the late 1960's and early 1970's, there has been a great deal of debate on the relevance of the marketing concept to nonprofit organisations. The origins of this debate can be traced to the Kotler and Levy (1969) classic article, "Broadening the Concept of Marketing". Since then, work by many authors has contributed to the widespread acceptance that the marketing concept is readily applicable in a broad range of contexts (Shapiro, 1973; Kotler, 1986; Arndt, 1978; Yorke, 1984). Amongst practitioners, of all the management functions, marketing has attracted the greatest interest in recent years (Lovelock and Weinberg, 1983).

Many nonprofit organisations have adopted the marketing concept as they have had to face new and complex market place problems (Kotler, 1979). In the charity sector, these problems have arisen from changes in the social, economic and political environment. Waning governmental and public support has diminished their financial resources and charitable organisations have turned to marketing to increase income from donations. Donations to charity in Britain are estimated to amount to approximately L5.3 billion per annum, that is, close to one per cent of the Gross National Product (GNP) (Halfpenny and Lowe, 1994). In the United States the voluntary sector is recognised as the largest employer of ]about and its value represents 2.24 per cent of the country's GNP (Weber, 1990). In the United Kingdom the size and importance of the voluntary sector has burgeoned in recent years. There are now over 176,000 charities registered in England and Wales alone (Henderson, 1993) and their numbers increase by 4,000 every year (Burnett 1993). This growth has led to a rapid increase in competition amongst charities and marketing is now a crucial fundraising function which enables an organisation to compete effectively for donor pounds.

Charities tend to spend the main part of their marketing budget on fundraising and, over two decades, authors have documented marketing's contribution to improving the operations of fundraisers (Fox and Kotler 1980, Lovelock and Weinberg 1984, Kotler and Andreasen 1987, Frazer, Hite and Sauer 1988, Guy and Patton 1989). A significant part of this fundraising budget goes on mass fundraising, as individuals are the biggest contributors to charities. In Britain about eighty percent of the total amount donated to charities is given by individuals and about eighty percent of adults make some kind of donation in the course of the year. This is broadly comparable with countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia (Burnett, 1993).

Because such a large proportion of the income for charities is provided by individual donations it is important that the design of fundraising campaigns maximises response amongst these individual contributors. The present paper, therefore focuses on marketing for fundraising amongst individual donors.


When the use of marketing for fundraising purposes first became popular, charities typically adopted marketing techniques which had proved to be successful for providers of consumer goods and services in commercial contexts. Fundraisers attempting to recruit and retain donors in the recessionary years of the 1990s, however, have realised that it is not sufficient to simply use marketing techniques for the sake of using them. Rather they must seek an understanding of why people give to their cause so that they can develop a marketing strategy that will encourage the long term commitment of donors to their organisation (Guy and Patton, 1989). As Lee(1993: 10) comments "[Fundraisers]...must always remain evermore aware that a technique is only a technique; people support charity because they believe in the cause ......

In recognition of this need, several studies have been conducted to uncover people's motivations for donating to charity, although the body of research into this area remains relatively small. Some social scientists argue that the motivation for altruism is that it increases the chances of survival of the human species (Silver 1980, Wilson 1978). Others posit that it is not a genetic motive but is learned behaviour which results from socialisation (Rushton 1982, Bar-Tal and Raviv 1982, Grusec 1982). Researchers front the field of consumer behaviour who have considered the motivational aspect of donor behaviour have considered the perceived benefits of making a donation and note that these include feelings of self esteem, public recognition, the satisfaction of expressing gratitude for one's own well being and relief from feelings of guilt and obligation (Amos 1982, Dawson 1988). Guy and Patton (1989) and Bruce (1994), on the other hand, emphasise that an individual's motives for donating to charity appear to be driven by the anticipation of intrinsic benefits of giving to help others. Bruce (1994) proposes that "if there were one over-arching reason forgiving ... it is because [individuals] feel better as a person afterwards" (p 238).

Whatever people's motivations for donating to charity, if research into donor behaviour is to progress it needs to look beyond "why" people donate to consider the reality of "how" they donate. Guy and Patton (1989) developed a model of donor decision making on the basis of social -psychology theories of "why people help" but, beyond this, the issue of donor decision making has received scant attention. Given that making a donation to charity is an economic activity, as well as a social activity, it is reasonable to suggest that the investigation of donor decision making has much to gain from reference to the advances made in consumer behaviour research. This paper identifies the major perspectives on modelling the decision process in consumer behaviour with the aim of drawing comparisons between consumer and donor decision making which facilitate consideration of how these perspectives of decision process modelling apply in the context of donor behaviour.


Since consumer behaviour scientists acknowledged the need for a decision making model to predict behaviour, extensive research has been conducted into consumer decision making which produced several versions of the consumer decision process model.


The first models that were developed (Nicosia, 1966; Howard and Sheth 1969; Engel, Kollat and Blackwell 1968; Howard, 1977) promote the cognitive view of decision making. They assume that consumers have the ability and inclination to receive and process considerable amounts of information. Because this approach presents a view of the consumer as a rational decision maker, it is intuitively attractive to explain everyday behaviour and, twenty years on, these cognitive-based models are still the dominant paradigm in consumer behaviour research.

This cognitive approach posits that all consumption and purchase decisions are based on information processing and that a change in attitude always precedes a change in behaviour. The cognitive-based models do distinguish, however, amongst different types of purchases according to the level of information processing that a consumer undertakes in order to arrive at a satisfactory decision. Information processing models propose -that it is the strength of a person's attitude toward a purchase that determines the level of problem solving that s/he will engage in to arrive at a decision. Where attitude strength is low and the consumer does not have the knowledge and/or experience to compare and evaluate alternatives to a satisfactory level s/he is suggested to engage in extended problem solving (EPS). That is, s/he seeks more information and becomes highly involved in the decision process in an attempt to reduce the perceived risks of the purchase. Where relatively strong attitude towards a purchase has been developed on the basis of a person's knowledge and experience, but where there remains some ambiguity about its attributes, s/he is said to engage in limited problem solving (LPS). When a decision involves LPS a consumer is likely to limit the extent of his or her information search and evaluation as s/he perceives a lower level of risk to be associated with the purchase and is therefore less involved in the decision making process. Finally, when an individual has developed a strong attitude towards a purchase through experience s/he is suggested have a well developed predisposition towards certain purchase behaviour, that is, s/he exhibits routine response behaviour (RRB) (Howard and Sheth, 1969).


Wilkie (1990:223) points out that "for most people, family, social events, love lives ,job success, illness, births and so forth are more important than [are] purchase[s]". This claim supports the view advanced by Kassarjian (1981) that the majority of consumer behaviour is low in risk and low in involvement.

The examination of different purchase situations over the last twenty years has led consumer research scientists to question the whole notion of the highly involved consumer who engages in EPS (0lshavsky and Granbois, 1979; Driver and Foxall, 1984, 1986; Ehrenberg, 1972, 1974; Hawkins and Hoch, 1992). And there is evidence that, often, consumers do not engage in extensive information processing in order to arrive at a purchase decision. In 1977, Jacoby el al. remarked that "the vast majority of consumers neither use nor comprehend nutrition information in arriving at food purchase decisions" (p 126).

The limited use of information to make a purchase decision is not restricted to low cost consumables such as foodstuffs but has also been observed in relation to durables. There are numerous studies which reveal that consumers engage in very limited information search for durable products such as cars and furniture (cf. 0lshavsky and Granbois, 1979; Robertson, 1976) and for services such as general practitioners (Gabbott and Hogg, 1994).


The low involvement of consumers in their decision making means that the basis on which they evaluate alternative offerings is often less rational than the information processing consumer decision models suggest. Many purchases of consumer goods and services are realised without apparent evidence that any information processing has taken place at all (0lshavsky and Granbois, 1979; Foxall, 1990). Foxall (1983, 1984) also provides evidence that other expected outcomes of rational decision making, brand attitudes for example, are absent even when products are frequently purchased.

For low involvement purchases a consumer will often use a simple selection strategy of trial purchases. S/he may well visit a single store and buy the first brand of the required product that comes to hand. In this instance, the consumer's perceptions of the store image often suffice as a decision criteria and s/he does not expend the energy to evaluate the discriminating attributes of the product. Even where relatively expensive purchases are concerned a consumer often restricts their search to the alternatives available in a single store and may base their entire evaluation on the reputation of the outlet and the advice of the salesperson.

For non-durables this trial basis selection strategy allows the consumer to develop a repertoire of brands which are acceptable alternatives for repeat purchases (Tauber, 1981; Ehrenberg, 1974). In fact, where non-durables are concerned, it is a characteristic common in this market that consumers, seeking variety, switch amongst brands in a product category (Ehrenberg, 1972).

Foxall (1990) makes reference to a simple decision process model outlined by Ehrenberg and Goodhardt (1989) - awareness, trial, repeat purchase - that delineates this low involvement sequence of purchasing and consuming. This process contrasts with that put forward in the information processing models which assumes that consumer decision making always follows a sequence of cognitive, affective and cognitive reactions. Whereas the cognitive models of consumer behaviour assume that marketing must seek to change consumer attitudes before it can change their buying habits, models that posit a different chain of reactions (Van Raaij, 1984; Ray, 1973) suggest that situational factors have a much greater influence on consumer behaviour.


Given the high incidence of LPS purchases and that consurner decisions appears not to be exclusively the result of information processing, several authors have developed more basic behaviouristic models of the consumer decision process which emphasise the direct or indirect impact of situational influences on behaviour (Belk, 1975; Branthwaite, 1984; Kakkar and Lutz, 1981; Leigh and Martin, 198]; Troye, 1985). This more simple approach to explaining consumer behaviour has been suggested to be more realistic than the complex cognitive-based models (Kassarjian, 1978).

Clearly there is a myriad of environmental factors that may influence behaviour. Researchers in various fields of study have attempted to compile taxonomies and others have attempted to summarise these by developing systems of classification (eg. Sells 1963, Moos 1973, Kasmar 1970, Belk 1975). At the most general level, however, situational factors which influence behaviour include temporal, physical and social characteristics of the occasion when behaviour takes place. Recent literature on consumer behaviour includes various studies that have been conducted to investigate the effects of situational factors on consumer behaviour, including the time available for shopping, the physical design of the store, store environment, element of novelty and complexity, and interactions with store personnel and other customers (Parker, Iyer and Smith, 1989; Donovan and Rossiter, 1982; Grossbart, Hampton and Rammolian, 1990; Baker, Grewal and Levy, 1992).


In the same way that different types of purchases can be identified according to the extent of problem solving necessary to arrive at a satisfactory decision, donation typologies can be formed on this basis. For example, the decision to sponsor a child from a developing country may involve EPS on the grounds there are relatively high levels of risk and involvement linked to that form of donation. The donor may feel a high level of involvement because s/he is not simply contributing but is assuming sole financial responsibility for the child's well being. A high level of perceived risk may also be associated with the donation because there is a requirement for long term commitment to the cause, because the donor is not certain that his or her money will be used as promised or even because what the charity promises to use the money for is what the child really needs. By contrast, putting ten pence in a charity box collection in the street is more likely to be characterised by low involvement and low perceived risk and, therefore, to involve LPS. There arc also many donations, such as putting money in the church collection on a Sunday morning and renewing membership to a supporters group, which are examples of RRB.

Further comparison between consumer and donor decision making can be drawn on the ground that LPS decision would also appear to be Prominent amongst donation occasions. There is not the same evidence to support this argument as is provided by the consumer behaviour literature, but there is reasonable basis for supposition. Rados (1981) observes that donors are often unable to say why they made a donation to charity, which implies that conscious information processing does not playa prominent part in many donation decisions. In addition, Bruce (1994) lists reasons for making a donation which include: being asked, to get rid of the asker, as a means of' recognition by peers or superiors, to "feel good", because religion encourages it, acknowledgment of being fortunate personally and therefore having sonic responsibility to help other less well off. Amongst these reasons, sonic correspond to the general donor motivation research while others are more situation related. Considered in relation to a variety of donation forms, including telephone appeals, sponsored activities, charity dinners, door-to door collection, direct mail appeals, collection boxes, raffles, it seems reasonable to suggest that little energy is expended by the donor on information search and processing and that, in reality, the dominant type of donation involves LPS.

In addition to the comparison between donation situations and consumer purchases, in that they are apparently low in involvement and perceived risk, one distinctive characteristic of the donation situation which suggests that LPS is also likely to be dominant in a donor context is that people often give in response to request for a donation. Often this restricts the time available for decision making and therefore reduces the likelihood of extensive information processing. Moreover, it reduces the probability that the individual will engage in comparing alternatives. LPS is also suggested to result when there is little difference between alternatives on relevant criteria. If, as previous donor research suggests, the overriding motivation for giving to charity is that an individual feels a better person afterward, there is even more reason to suggest that LPS is dominant in donation behaviour.

There is further similarity with the commercial context, in that it is not uncommon for extensive information processing to be absent even when large amounts of money are to be donated. For example, when a person arranges his or her will, s/he will often decide to include a legacy and rely wholly on the lawyer's advise regarding which charity to leave the money to.

Given the similarities between LPS donation decisions and LPS consumer decisions there is basis to argue that donor behaviour may also be comparable to purchase behaviour in the extent to which it is subject to the influence of situational factors.


It is our contention that donor behaviour research has concentrated heavily on motivation but has paid scant attention to the actual giving situations. This neglect of the situational determinant of behaviour means that the knowledge of the donation process is unknown and in order to optimise the efficiency of the marketing effort it is vital to have an understanding of the reality of how people give to charity.

Literature to date has concentrated more on motivation and information processing whereas, in reality, the decision to donate seems to be largely a response to a social learning and conditioning. If this is true then situational stimuli are likely to be important determinants of behaviour and fundraisers need to pay more attention to developing and controlling donation situations for different levels and types of donation in order to elicit an optimum response. By concentrating on motivation and evaluative information at the expense of the donation situation fundraisers risk losing sight of the reality of donor behaviour.


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Sally Hibbert, University of Stirling
Suzanne Horne, University of Stirling


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1995

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