Presenting disaster causes as linked to climate change does not drive willingness to donate, research finds

Research has found that charities presenting disaster causes as linked to climate change does not drive willingness to donate from the public.

This finding has emerged as part of a survey with over 1,000 participants into the psychology of giving to disaster relief.

Conducted by GlobalGiving UK and Professor Hanna Zagefka, Professor of Psychology at Royal Holloway University Psychology Department, the research also found that 90% of those classed as having high climate anxiety are motivated to donate to people affected by climate-change-related events, compared with 58% of those in the low climate anxiety group.

Women of all ages and young people between 18-29 were significantly more likely to be experiencing climate anxiety, as well as being more inclined to donate to such causes.

However, while demonstrating the connection between climate anxiety and a desire to donate, when assessing the effect of climate change beliefs on giving decisions, the data suggests that emphasising the link between the climate crisis and a disaster, in fact reduces motivation to donate to a cause.

Professor Zagefka said: “The results clearly indicate that messages designed to increase donations must be carefully tested for unintended consequences. It is possible that us emphasising climate change in this study dampened donations because this made participants feel overall more threatened and worried, and people who feel threatened might have a tendency to ‘bunker down’ rather than to reach out to others”.

GlobalGiving also looked at perceived levels of responsibility to donate following a disaster, to understand views on the role of businesses in supporting disaster relief causes of all kinds.

This varied with age, with 73% of those aged 18-29 believing companies have a responsibility to donate to disaster relief, compared to 40% of over 50s. Young people view responsibility as shared by citizens as well as governments, and there was a positive correlation between perceptions of government, business responsibility and a personal motivation to donate.

GlobalGiving UK CEO, Alex Ritchie, said: “Our findings show that as the frequency of disaster events increases as a result of climate change and other threats, businesses should be sensitive to employees’ concerns and expectations, and charities to the potential for complex psychological responses to disaster events.

"However, we do know that being able to donate rapidly following disasters can help address feelings of powerlessness – and GlobalGiving supports this by enabling businesses and individuals to support vetted local partners, who are closest to the communities affected by disaster events.”

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