May 31, 2012

Conservatives and Liberals Respond Differently to Fundraising Pitches, Study Finds

Most donors probably think their political beliefs don't influence how they respond to pleas of support from children's charities, housing groups, or theater companies. But a new study suggests they do—and fundraisers would be wise to take note.

University researchers presented study participants with a description of Rebuilding Together, a charity that repairs homes for low-income people. But they subtly changed the description to suggest that the organization was either supporting American traditions and loyalty or advancing equality.

Among participants who said that "morals" were very important, those who identified as Republicans were nearly three times as likely to donate when the charity was described as aiding everyday working Americans who follow traditions and help their communities. Democrats were twice as likely to donate when the charity was described as ensuring the protection of a home for every individual.

The researchers found similar results in two other studies of children's charities, including one advocacy group. Again focusing on study participants who said they valued morals, they found that Democrats were more likely than Republicans to donate when the charity was described as protecting children from harm. Republicans were more likely to give when the charity's description emphasized purity and loyalty to a community.

"Charities, in addition to focusing on their main mission, must also clarify how their mission is aligned with the moral foundations of a donor’s political identity," said Yinlong Zhang, study co-author and associate professor of marketing at the University of Texas at San Antonio, in a news release. "A very simple repositioning of the charity’s description so that it aligns with a person’s political identity can increase donation intentions two- or threefold. Of course, this raises important questions for charities in terms of their communication strategy. But assuming this divide does not exist can only hurt their chances of maximizing donations from liberals and conservatives."

The study was conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State and Rice universities and the University of Texas at San Antonio. It will appear in the International Journal of Research in Marketing.

Send an e-mail to Caroline Preston.