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The Identifiable Victim Effect: Why you should reconsider donating to the child on GoFundMe

April 15th, 2017 1 comment

What kinds of charities do you give to? What spurs you to give to them? Is it images on GoFundMe of your friend’s neighbor’s child suffering from cancer, or the story of an exploited woman finding refuge and employment through a non-profit? Do you get a feeling of satisfaction when you type in your annual donations as deductibles to send to the IRS?

These are questions that can be answered and understood through the Identifiable Victim Effect, which says that people are more willing to give aid when they can identify a specific victim who will benefit from their donation. That is, when you or I hear a suffering child’s story or see their picture, we are more likely to whip out our wallets.

Why is this? It isn’t a rational or effective strategy for doing the most good for the most people. People donated $700,000 upon hearing the publicized plight of Baby Jessica who fell into a well in 1987, an amount of money that was probably not necessary to save Baby Jessica and perhaps should have been shared with other necessary causes, such as the thousands of nameless babies who are abandoned and dying around the world (Small, Loewenstein, & Slovic, 2007). The Identifiable Victim Effect does not rely on logic, so its explanation certainly isn’t going to be found in the sensible decisions of kind citizens.

What a cute child! His story of suffering from cancer raised more than twice the amount of the original goal. Source: GoFundMe.

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