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Do parents read appeals differently? Responses of Parents and Non-parents to Fundraising Appeals for Children’s Cancer Care

Thu, July 14, 3:30 to 5:00pm, TBA


This paper uses survey responses and experimental treatments to consider how parents respond to fundraising appeals for a children’s cancer charity, compared to adults without children.

A fairly robust literature examines determinants of giving, often focusing on sociodemographic factors of donors such as income, age, gender, and marital status (e.g. Schlegelmilch, Love, & Diamantopoulos, 1997; Wiepking & Bekkers, 2012). There is also research that asks donors what affects their donation choices, confirming that choices of causes to support are not homogenous. We have empirical evidence that personal values affect the choice of what type of charities a donor might find compelling (Bennett, 2003), and that individuals’ tastes, socialization, and experiences affect their preferences in what kinds of charities they support (Breeze, 2013). While marital status has been studied with regard to giving decisions in heterosexual couples (e.g. Einolf, Curren, & Brown, 2018) and committed partnerships in same-sex couples (Dale, 2018), examinations of parents, children, and philanthropy tend to focus more on transmitting philanthropic values to one’s children (e.g. Body, Lau, & Josephidou, 2020; Ottoni-Wilhelm Zhang, Estell, & Perdue, 2017), rather than how having children might affect adult’s interests to evolve. Indeed, although many parents will talk about how having children changes them, research tends to focus on values transmission from parents to children, rather than how children influence parents (Knafo & Galansky, 2008). Social identities have been connected to decisions to give, such as women supporting women’s and girl’s causes (Dale & O’Connor, 2020), or members of a faith supporting a relevant religious organization (Chapman, Masser, & Louis, 2020). It follows that parenthood might also activate distinctive ways of responding to relevant charities, yet this link has been unexamined to our knowledge.

This study uses data from a larger study (N=1400) to examine responses to appeal letters written for a children’s cancer charity. Building upon previous exploratory factor analysis that identified how fundraisers combined elements to make strategic choices for a donor acquisition appeal (Hansen, 2020), this study examines potential donor responses to those choices. Preliminary statistical analysis reveals that respondents with children (N=643) indicated significantly higher levels of motivation in response to several elements within the letters compared to the respondents with no children (N=747). The paper examines which elements demonstrated stronger responses; whether different ways of combining elements outperformed others; and whether it matters if the gender of the children described in the letter align with the gender of the reader’s children. We contribute to our understanding of how the lived experiences of potential donors can affect their perceptions of fundraising appeals and motivate intentions to support charitable organizations.