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If you're on board with the idea of giving more to the best causes, you might still wonder why you should take the added step of signing our Pledge and joining us at Giving What We Can. We think joining Giving What We Can can make a real difference to the good you can achieve. Here we explain why.
By forming a group, we can accomplish difficult goals that we might have trouble achieving alone. A society of like-minded people can help support us in sticking to the aims we set for ourselves: joining a community with a strong identity is recognised by psychologists as one of the more effective means of inspiring positive behavioral change. 1 For example, group support is key to the success of Weight Watchers as a weight-loss program. 2
Haslam, S. Alexander, Penelope J. Oakes, Craig McGarty, John C. Turner, and Rina S. Onorato. 1995."Contextual changes in the prototypicality of extreme and moderate outgroup members" European Journal of Social Psychology 25: 509-30.
Mcgarty, Craig, S. Alexander Haslam, Karen J. Hutchinson, John C. Turner. 1994. "The Effects of Salient Group Memberships on Persuasion." Small Group Research 25: 267-93. (Close footnote)
Heshka, Stanley, James W. Anderson, Richard L. Atkinson, Frank L. Greenway, James O. Hill, Stephen D. Phinney, Ronette L. Kolotkin, Karen Miller-Kovach, and F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer. 2003. "Weight Loss With Self-help Compared With a Structured Commercial Program: A Randomized Trial." Journal of the American Medical Association 289 (14): 1792-1798. (Close footnote)
Besides communal spirit, joining Giving What We Can puts you in touch with a range of people eager to find the best means of lifting people out of poverty and equally eager to share their knowledge. Poverty is a complex issue, with important new information emerging every day. It takes a lot to stay on top of it all, and it would be difficult for any one person to do so on their own. Luckily, we don't have to: we can pool our knowledge and share our insights.
Taking our Pledge can also work as a form of 'pre-commitment'. Pre-commitment is a well-regarded strategy for sticking to goals we worry we might not fulfill: we take steps beforehand to ensure that we won't lose sight of our goals later on. We often have difficulty putting our intentions into practice if the costs to us are immediate and the benefits relatively distant. 3 Although we want to be fitter or more successful at work, we may struggle to put in the effort required to achieve those ends. Similar things can occur when it comes to donating to charity. As compassionate and conscientious people, we sincerely want to help others by donating to charity, but often we never quite get round to it. Our impulsiveness means that many donations are made at the last minute 4 or simply forgotten.
Lowenstein, George and Richard H. Thaler. 1989. "Anomalies: Intertemporal Choice" Journal of Economic Perspectives 3 (4): 181-193. (Close footnote)
We can use pre-committment to ensure that we follow through on our good intentions, by making a public pledge to give. There is a large body of evidence to show that pre-committing can help people who want to donate to charity in sticking to their goals. 5 Taking the Pledge to Give and joining a public stand against poverty will thus not only motivate others to do the same, but will secure your own motivation to continue giving.
Breman, Anna. 2006. "Give More Tomorrow: A Field Experiment on Intertemporal Choice in Charitable Giving". Stockholm School of Economics Working Paper. (Close footnote)
We like to make public the names of those who take our Pledge, though we respect anyone's desire to remain anonymous. By making our Pledge public, we can inspire others to give. In particular, we help to establish a norm for giving, and we counteract the Bystander Effect, a well-documented phenomenon in social psychology, explained below.
Our willingness to help others is surprisingly sensitive to the behaviour of those around us. In particular, there are many documented cases, both experimental and real-world, in which individuals have failed to come to the aid of others because they saw that people around them were doing nothing to help. 6 This is the Bystander Effect. Experimental conditions establish that it is the presence of passive others that keeps people from helping: if they are by themselves, people reliably help in similar conditions. 7 Luckily, the opposite effect can also be found. In one field experiment, a radio station would mention to potential donors whenever a previous donor had donated $300: this increased donations by $13 per person. 8 Similarly, student donors are more likely to give to funds designed to help students in financial difficulty when told that a greater percentage of their peers had done so. 9
See Doris, John M. 2002. Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge Univeristy Press, 32-33. (Close footnote)
See, for example, Latané, Bibb and Judith Rodin. 1969. "A lady in distress: Inhibiting effects of friends and strangers on bystander intervention." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 5 (2): 189-202.(Close footnote)
Shang, Jen and Rachel Croson. Forthcoming. "Field Experiments in Charitable Contribution: The Impact of Social Influence on the Voluntary Provision of Public Goods". The Economic Journal.(Close footnote)
Frey, Bruno S. and Stephan Meier. 2004. "Social Comparisons and Pro-social Behavior: Testing 'Conditional Cooperation' in a Field Experiment". The American Economic Review 94 (5): 1717-1722.(Close footnote)
People are moved, far more than we expect, by the behavioural norms they observe others putting into practice. By making your giving public and joining an international society like Giving What We Can, you can inspire others, and thereby multiply the good you do.
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