British Columbia

Wealthy people more self-serving when it comes to giving to charity, says UBC study

A University of British Columbia (UBC) study has found the rich are more likely to give to charity when they feel they're furthering themselves by donating.

Poorer donors, meanwhile, are motivated by 'togetherness'

A new UBC study has found that the wealthy are more likely to give to charity when they get a sense of self-sufficiency from their generosity. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A University of British Columbia (UBC) study has found the rich are more likely to give to charity when they feel they're furthering themselves by donating — and charities could stand to benefit by appealing to those kinds of people.

The research, led by PhD candidate Ashley Whillans, looked at the effect of wealth on willingness to donate to non-profit organizations.

Working adults from Vancouver and Chicago, Ill. were told to watch one of two messages from charities: one advertising what they, individually, could do to help a cause and the other demonstrating what they could do "together" with other donors.

The study measured which respondents donated to charity and how much they gave.

Richer respondents were found to be more self-serving in their giving: they donated when the charity's appeal was focused on their own personal goals.

The poorer gave more to charities preaching a sense of community among donors.

"We were interested in understanding messages that might encourage giving, particularly among those with the greatest capacity to give," Whillans said.

The UBC study found that different classes of donors have different motivators when it comes to donating to charities. (iStock)

Whillans says the findings are in line with previous research on why people give.

"Having more money gives us more personal control in our daily lives, and as a result, we tend to focus on our own needs and goals ... sometimes at the expense of focusing on others," she said.

The researcher said charities could get more bang for their advertising buck if they tweak their messaging to appeal to a variety of donors — but particularly the ones with more to spend.

"People donate to charity because they feel as if it's personally compelling to them," Whillans said. "It will be exciting for charities to put these messages to practice and to see whether or not these kinds of tailored messages work."

In 2013, 82 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 donated to charity. Contributions from primary donors in B.C.went up 47 per cent from 2004 to 2013.

Most gave to a religious, health or social services organization.

With files from Deborah Goble