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Should you ask your audience to donate to help an individual or to your organization?

Whether you are soliciting for an organization, like a PAC or party – or working on behalf of a charity or issues, there is always a bit of a conundrum:

On one hand – you want to raise money that you have the most flexibility with. If you raise for a specific individual/campaign/project, it’s implied you’re going to put the money towards that. (While the request can be carefully worded for more flexibility, but there will be an expectation of results.)

On the other hand, specificity works. When making an appeal, it works best if it’s personal, right? It’s less interesting to talk about the plight of the poor – and more impactful to talk about Annie, the impoverished and abandoned orphan.

A 2011 study by Danit Ein-Gar and Liet Levontin of Tel-Aviv University, however, calls these assumptions into question. The study, titled “Giving from a distance: Putting the charitable organization at the center of the donation appeal” and published in the Journal of Consumer Research argued that there are conditions in which it’s better to make the organization – not the individual – the center of the appeal.

Temporal and Social Distance

When something happens to someone in your community, or when something happens to someone that’s similar in age to yourself – it makes sense that it would be more affecting. It feels (or is) closer.

But when soliciting on behalf of an identified individual that is not like your audience, there’s a greater “social distance” – and less of a feeling of association.

Ein-Gar and Levontin found that when the audience is more socially distant from subject being solicited for, it’s actually better to solicit for the organization itself (rather than the individual).

These weren’t mild differences either – there were huge – over 50% differences in how people donated based on social distance to the target.

It was also the case that gender made a difference in this social distance perception – with men donating to women causes more when it was an abstract solicitation (like an organization) rather than a specific solicitation (like an individual).

Significant differences existed in instances of temporal distance as well. When the need for the money was further in the future, or less concrete – solicitations for a single organization did better than for a single individual.

PsyPology Analysis

While there are potential implications for parties solicit for candidates (vs. the party’s own broad based operations) – it seems this study has the most relevance to non-profits, issue orgs and or ballot initiatives.

If you’re running a solicitation program for a non-profit or issue advocacy campaign, the question you need to ask is whether there is temporal or social distance between your audience and the people your issue/charity is trying to help.

Do they live similar lifestyles? Do they share a community? Is this a request for an immediate need or something preventative (i.e. to prevent future pollution vs. remediate an immediate one.) Is there a gender aspect to the ask? (i.e. are you asking men to support a woman-oriented cause/issue)?

If you’re doing high dollar fundraising to raise money to help poor, underprivileged kids outside of your local community – you may be better off making your solicitations about the work of the organization vs. a particular individual needing help.

Conversely, if you’re raising money for a medical marijuana campaign, there is likely a close social distance between the donors and cancer patients that need it, and a more pressing time frame to alleviate their immediate pain. In this case, the individual-based solicitation seems indicated.

The study also made it very clear that campaigns should pay close attention to the gender of who you are asking vs the beneficiary of the solicitation. If they are different, you may want to lean towards an organizational ask.

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About the Author

Brian Franklin
Brian Franklin

PsyPology™ Founder and Editor


Brian Franklin is President of Impact Politics and founder/editor of PsyPology™ – political consulting’s first blog providing psychology intel specifically for campaign operatives. Brian has provided marketing strategy, creative direction, language development, and writing services to over a hundred political campaigns, organizations, agencies, and corporations. He has led Impact Politics’ work for numerous federal, state, county candidate, ballot initiative, public advocacy, and non-profit campaigns, as well as ad development and online media strategy for  international advocacy campaigns.


Brian is a Board Member of the American the American Association of Political Consultants and co-Chair of their Technology Committee. He is the author of a recent feature article in Campaigns and Elections magazine, “The Slow Boom of Campaign Technology.” In addition to his leadership role in the American Association of Political Consultants, Brian is also a member of the International Association of Political Consultants, Society for Consumer Psychology, Behavioral Science and Policy Association, and the International Society of Political Psychology.


Brian’s work has earned prestigious national awards, such as the Pollie Awards for Best Overall Internet Campaign, Best Overall Campaign Use of Negative Contrast, Best Use of Facebook Advertising, Best Use of Search Engine Advertising, Best Use of Humor in an Online Ad, Best Online Ads, and more. Brian has also won a Campaigns and Elections Reed Award for Best Online Targeting.


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