Which charity would you be more likely to donate to over the long run: Feed The Children or Stop Child Hunger? According to a new study, you’re more likely to support the first.

A new study out of the David Eccles School of Business found that charities supporting a cause are more likely to endure compared to charities opposing some problem. The study, “What’s in a Message? The Longitudinal Influence of a Supportive Versus Combative Orientation on the Performance of Nonprofits,” analyzed the message orientations that nonprofit organizations take toward their causes. It found that organizations adopting a supportive position garner greater long-term donations.

The study defined supportive messages as those that were promoting or aiding a cause or pro-social behavior, such as a campaign aimed at feeding more children each day. It defined combative messages as fighting, going against or preventing an erroneous behavior or problem, such as a campaign battling child hunger. Each of these campaigns support the same cause; however, a simple shift from “Stop Child Hunger” to “Feed The Children” can affect donor behavior over time.

To test this proposition, Keith Botner, lead author of the study, and his colleagues, marketing faculty members Himanshu Mishra and Arul Mishra: analyzed financial data from nonprofits’ tax filings over a 10-year period; measured donor pledges to a registered nonprofit organization; and examined actual donation behavior in a lab study. This study included an analysis of donations of both time and of money.

“Through our longitudinal examination, we demonstrate that a supportive orientation tends to outperform a combative orientation,” said Botner, doctoral candidate in the David Eccles School of Business. “While negative messages have been shown to garner attention in the short-term, we find that supportive messages prevail over time. A supportive orientation is more promotion-focused, which tends to be more global and thus more closely aligned with the long-term ‘greater good’ of the cause.”

This study can be found on the “Journal of Marketing Research” website and in the forthcoming February print edition of the journal.

To hear a podcast interview with Keith head over to the Eccles Extra blog.


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