Science has worked out a simple way to get men to donate to charity

Performers from the musical The Lion King sing on stage at the 10th anniversary celebration of charity The Million Dollar Lunch at the Park Hyatt in Melbourne. Michael Dodge/Getty Images

For men it’s all about competition, being better than the next man, or so the theory goes.

Scientists have now tested this and found that it works when trying to get men to donate to charity.

The best way to get men to open their wallets is to let them see what other men have given, and make it a large sum. The other way is to ensure the female fundraiser is attractive.

The researchers suggest that men do this subconsciously rather than deliberately trying to outdo each other.

But they will still donate four times more money to an attractive female fundraiser in response to the contribution of another male.

“People are really generous and are right, a lot of the time, to say that their motives for giving to charity are altruistic, not self-serving,” says Nichola Raihani of University College London. “This does not, however, preclude these motives from having evolved to benefit the donor in some way.”

Raihani and Sarah Smith of the University of Bristol relied on a large online fundraising platform for the study.

Smith’s earlier work showed that existing donations on a page act as a kind of anchor for current donors. Seeing a small or a large donation influences what subsequent donors are willing to contribute.

Raihani and Smith wanted to know whether the behaviour of donors would also be influenced by the gender and attractiveness of the fundraiser.

“We don’t think that males are seeing large donations from other males to attractive female fundraisers, and then thinking ‘Yeah, I’ll give more than him because she will find me more attractive then.’ In fact, I think that is quite unlikely,” Raihani says.

“I think it is more likely that humans have an evolved psychology that motivates us to behave in ways that would have been, on average, adaptive in our evolutionary past — and may still be nowadays also.”


The findings show the way to improve fundraising.

The first rule: smile. The attractiveness ratings of female fundraisers has a lot to do with facial expression.

And seed a campaign with larger donations early on.

“Large donations can elicit other large donations, so fundraisers might raise more if they get their most generous friends or family to donate early in the appeal,” Raihani says.

The results of the study is published in the journal Current Biology.

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