The Effect of Social Distance on Donations to Care Versus Cure: An Abstract
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Consumers are giving at record levels (Giving USA 2018) to charities providing a variety of different services. While prior work has examined donation likelihood (Lee et al. 2014), research on allocation in a donation context is tenuous. Donation allocation is particularly applicable in medical charities where consumers often face the task of allocating their contributions to either care for patients or research for a cure. We study allocation decisions in this research. In particular, we examine whether social distance between a donor and a patient may influence allocation between care and cure.
We define care as providing patients with resources such as equipment, medication, and financial aid (In Your Community 2018). Cure represents funding to researchers to advance the search for a permanent remedy (Lopez 2018). Prior research supports the influence of social distance on donations (Winterich et al. 2009). We extend this stream, showing that donors who are socially close to a patient are more likely to allocate donations to cure than those who are socially distant from a patient. Furthermore, we argue that this effect is driven by a need for hope (Vergaeghe et al. 2005).
Three studies were conducted. To rule out potential confounds, donations were destined for the charity in general and would not directly benefit any specific patient. We measured social distance in Study 1 and showed that, as predicted, closer social distance significantly increased preference for cure. In Study 2, we replicated the results with a manipulation of social distance, again showing a significant effect of social distance on donation allocation, such that participants in the close condition showed greater preference for cure than those in the distant condition. Study 3 tested the proposed underlying mechanism and showed that need for hope mediated the effect of social distance on donation allocations.
The results of these studies show that, consistent with predictions, closer social distance increases preference for cure over care. Our research helps to develop a better understanding of donation allocation decisions. In particular, we introduce a new perspective to the donation literature by examining how donors choose to allocate their dollars between care and cure. Furthermore, the current research deepens the theoretical understanding by examining the underlying processes and identifying a mediating construct (i.e., need for hope) which has not been examined in prior consumer behavior literature. Together, this research provides guidance regarding how charitable organizations may implement effective marketing strategies to increase donations to their causes.