In order to take philanthropy into a new age and stimulate large-scale giving, we must first explore the psychology behind why people donate. This will allow us to see where charities have failed in the past, and what will enable them to succeed in the future. What better way to do so, therefore, than to visualize the most basic of human desires and attempt to analyze the simple act of giving figures.
Donating to charity, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is one of the most complex and refined of human desires. Featuring at the top of the pyramid, it is an act that many of us do not engage with all that much, and is usually an act of developed moral conscience, rather than basic human necessity. Many of us give to charity to become “better people”, once all our other needs have been met and we are able to focus on problems outside of ourselves. The act of donating figures in our quest for self-actualization.
However, there are even more basic human needs that charities can look to satisfy. Moving one stage down the pyramid, we find Esteem: the need to be accepted, respected, recognized and valued by others. There are several features of modern society that are closely related to the human need for Esteem – the principles of which charities can learn a lot from. Twitter is a textbook example of how the Internet can be used to satisfy our need for social recognition. Both YouTube and Twitter has spawned the phenomenon of micro-celebrity, enabling regular people to feel like celebrities with our ‘followers’ and status updates, as well as to interact with the rich and famous on a more personal level.
Moreover, social media platforms allow for a greater participation in the popular culture of today. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube enable us to associate ourselves with any celebrity, and engage any of our interests – from music and television to fashion and sport – creating an identity for ourselves based on our chosen associations. ‘Following’, and ‘liking’ are our tools in shaping our self-image and provide us with a sense of existential significance. Moving another stage down the pyramid, social media can even feed the basic human need to belong, our brains being preconditioned to operate within the social context of community. Feelings of community are traditionally generated through family, friends or our workplace, but now the Internet and social media are allowing for a wider sense of community.
The way forward for fundraising is not simply for charities to utilize these new social media channels, but to engage with the basic human psychological needs that these networks satisfy. Charities are slowly beginning to understand the social feedback loops involved with the popular social networking sites and why they are so critical to their success. It’s all very well attempting to appeal to the public’s innate morality, but the reality is that charities need to truly incentivize giving, playing into our human need to belong, and to create an identity for ourselves –whilst slotting into the popular culture of today.