The Traits and Behaviours of Philanthropic People
Have you ever wondered what makes a person philanthropic? Some people go out of their way to volunteer their time and donate their money, while others prefer to keep what they have. It’s easy to make generalizations: people who give are nice, and people who don’t are mean. We simply need to look at our pop culture influences to see where that thinking comes from Scrooge Abernathy, The Grinch, Edgar Balthazar, and more.
But are generous people always kind? Some of the most generous people in the world are not known for being kind. Mel Gibson, for example, has consistently been ranked as one of the most charitable celebrities, yet he is hardly known for being “a nice guy.” He has been plagued by domestic violence allegations and has been recorded more than once making derogatory and discriminatory comments against various minority groups.
Philanthropy does not seem to be entirely about morals. One study showed that people who identified as “moral” were not necessarily more inclined to give — it depended on the recipient of their charity. In cases where the recipient was seen as a victim of circumstances, people were empathetic and supported the cause; where the recipient was seen as in some way responsible for their circumstances, people were less likely to donate. Ultimately, it wasn’t about the giver’s morals but about the recipient’s worthiness.
Someone’s willingness to give can often come down to the message used to attract them. In one test, a group of potential donators was told to consider how much they’d donate to a group of 20 children in need, while another group was told to focus on just one child. The latter group was found to be almost twice as generous, suggesting people feel more generous when they can focus on one individual within a group.
Apparently, someone’s willingness to give does not come down to their capacity to give either. One study found that the poorest Americans (those in the bottom 20 percent) donated 3.2 percent of their income, while the richest Americans (those in the top 20 percent) donated only 1.3 percent.
This brings us back to the original question: what makes one person more philanthropic than another? Clearly, it’s not about a person’s capacity to give. It’s also not about how “nice” or “moral” they are. So, what does make one person more philanthropic than another?
It may have something to do with their ability to be flexible. A study conducted in the U.K. investigated how charitable behaviour relates to the “Big 5” personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They found that openness to experience played the biggest role in influencing charitable behaviours, such as donating money or volunteering time. Conscientiousness and neuroticism had the inverse effect.
Why would conscientious and neurotic people be less likely to be generous? Perhaps because they are less likely to be willing to change their routine. Volunteering, for example, would interrupt a conscientious person’s set schedule, and an extra expense like donating might create feelings of anxiety in a neurotic person. People that are more open, on the other hand, tend to invite new experiences and adapt well to change.
Beyond personality, there’s some evidence to suggest that a person’s socio-economic status, age, or gender might play a role. One study found that women, young people, the well-educated, low income earners and people who lived in rural areas were more likely to show willingness to volunteer.
Finally, it’s not all about being selfless. People are often more willing to give of their time and money when there are social benefits. For example, a person is more likely to give when they expect public recognition – or if they expect public shaming if they don’t.
What are we to make of all this? Clearly, there is no single answer to the question of what makes one person more philanthropic than another, but if you’re trying to collect donations or attract people to your cause, try these tips:
- Choose one person to represent your cause and tell their story
- Be wary of telling the wrong part of the story — focus on what makes your recipient worthy of people’s generosity
- Reach out to a willing audience, keeping in mind the socio-economic and personality traits listed above
- Remember that your most willing pool of supporters maybe the people with the least capacity to give
- Tie in the social benefits to give, like publishing a donor list or hosting an event where donations are recognized
According to you, what makes a person Philanthropic? Leave behind your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, subscribe with us and stay tuned for more awesome posts.