Culture 3 min read

Why People Choose to Donate Time Rather Than Money

A new study reveals why most people are eager to donate time rather than money to charities even if they won't receive any personal benefits from it.

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mangostock /

recent study revealed why most people prefer to donate time doing charity works rather than just give money.

Like every interesting study, it began with a curious question. The researchers from Texas A&M University and Portland State University wanted to know why people choose to volunteer time, especially in situations when monetary donation could have made all the difference.

The researcher questioned:

“If you have really high wages, why would you give up a few hundred dollars an hour, when you could just work an hour and donate that amount and then provide significantly more value than your time would be worth to the charity?”

According to the co-author of the study, J. Forrest Williams, the “warm glow effect” could be responsible.

What does this mean, you wonder?

Simply put, the warm glow is the positive feeling we experience when we volunteer or donate to charity. It’s that great feeling we get when we flood the soup kitchens during the holidays to help out.

Past studies assume that donating $50 in cash and $50 worth of time are equivalent. But this is not the case.

As odd as it sounds, the warm glow from volunteering time is significantly higher than that of monetary donations.

The Warm Glow Effect: Choosing to Donate Time

Why People Choose to Donate Time Rather Than Money

For the study, the researchers gave the participants the option to donate time or money while controlling for factors that could influence their choice. These include networking, reciprocity, recognition, as well as happiness gained from working with others.

Yet, the participants chose to donate their time every single time, even when there was no personal benefit. Also, the choice remained the same when they knew that charities would permanently lose out from the monetary donation.

According to Williams, the warm glow effect is so persuasive that we become less concerned about the impact of our donations, even when it makes no economic sense.

The findings explain why charities may not receive sufficient donations, but get plenty of volunteers.

Williams explained:

“If you make $100 an hour, then you go work in a soup kitchen and don’t provide $100 worth of service in an hour, they would be better off if you just gave them $100.”

So, how should charities respond to the warm glow effect?

The researchers are not entirely sure how charities should react to the findings.

On the one hand, they could insist on donations and pay for labor to replace the volunteers. But, they would also be losing potential donors that could benefit from the volunteering experience.

Besides, volunteers can increase a charity’s visibility, and this could result in future monetary donations.

“Even if you are hyper-effective at what you do, it’s just so unlikely that the value of your time there is greater than the value of the money you would give,” Williams concluded.

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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