Avoidance of charitable donations
In 2017, Andreoni recognized that his warm glow model provided a direction for research on helping behaviors, rather than a complete answer to the question of why people give. Warm glow is relevant, but only an umbrella term under which specific individual and social motivations fall.24
Andreoni and colleagues thus wondered if warm glow could explain both giving and avoiding behaviors. If giving behaviors were motivated by factors that increase empathy in the potential giver, resolving that feeling would either come from giving accordingly and feeling good about it, or by not giving and feeling guilty. If so, could people who were cognizant of their vulnerability to guilt-inducing stimuli (such as other people knowing they did not donate) control their exposure to said stimuli, and thus control their resulting emotions and actions? In other words, maybe if people could avoid guilt-inducing situations like being asked to donate at the grocery store and having to turn down the request, they could avoid guilt-induced behaviors.
Andreoni and colleagues tested this theory by implementing the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, one of the most known fundraising campaigns in the United States.24 Occurring in the weeks leading up to Christmas, volunteers dress up in holiday outfits and ring bells, asking people for donations as they pass by. The campaign is known to raise millions of dollars each year and funds are used to provide food, toys, and clothing for those who can’t afford them during the holidays. As a result, the researchers believed that the campaign would be perceived by participants as a worthy, legitimate cause.
The researchers set up Salvation Army volunteers for the Red Kettle Campaign at a grocery store, where customers experienced one of four conditions.24 The volunteers would either ring the bell, make eye contact with customers and explicitly ask for donations, or they would simply ring the bell to draw attention. Additionally, there were either volunteers at both doors to the store, or there were volunteers at only one door, leaving another empty.
The researchers found that avoidance was higher when there were only volunteers at one door, since customers could then have a “credible” excuse for both themselves and others, if asked why they did not donate: perhaps they just missed the volunteers, and would’ve donated otherwise! Additionally, donations were much higher when customers were explicitly asked.
The researchers used warm glow to explain these results: although warm glow is commonly associated with the positive benefits of donating, people may also want to avoid the negative outcomes of not donating, such as social stigma.24 To avoid the feelings of guilt that occur when one feels like they should donate but don’t want to, people engage in strategic avoidance behaviors to maintain positive self-concepts. With this explanation in mind, the researchers posited that in real life, empathetic people who aren’t able to donate due to financial reasons would have the greatest incentives to avoid donation requests.