Applying Social Psychology to Induce Charitable Donations1


  • 1

    The author would like to acknowledge the cooperation and assistance of the San Diego chapter of the American Cancer Society, especially the helpfulness of Patty Dwyer.

2 Requests for reprints should be sent to James M. Weyant, Department of Psychology, University of San Diego, Alcala Park, San Diego, CA 92110.


As part of a door-to-door campaign to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, 359 people in a middle-class neighborhood were randomly assigned to five different versions of a request for contributions. A version of the request similar to that typically used in such charity drives served as a control and the other four versions were modified slightly on the basis of social psychological principles. Three of these manipulations failed to increase donating beyond the level of the standard request. Replicating prior research, it was found that for completed requests (N= 293) adding the words “even a penny will help” to the standard request significantly increased the percentage of people who donated. However, in 66 cases the solicitor was interrupted with a donation or a refusal before delivering the key phrase that differentiated the experimental conditions. An analysis of these incomplete requests suggests that the effectiveness of the even-a-penny technique may be at least partially explained by the solicitors' expectations.