Posts tagged ‘Michael W. O’Boyle’

February 10, 2012

Breaking News: Brain Scan Study Gives Fresh Insight into Charitable Giving Behavior

An exciting new study from researchers at Texas Tech University used brain scans to garner fresh insight into charitable giving behavior. Specifically, the study looked at what motivates individuals to make a charitable bequest commitment as well as what de-motivates them. This is the first time that Magnetic Resonance Imaging has been used to examine charitable bequest decision making.

This blog post marks the first time that the breakthrough findings of the Texas Tech study have been released to the nonprofit development community. I am honored that Russell N. James, III, JD, PhD, CFP furnished me with a preview copy of his draft report, “Charitable Estate Planning as Visualized Autobiography: An fMRI Study of Its Neural Correlates.”  I thank James for providing me with the draft report and for allowing me to share it with you. I also want to recognize Michael W. O’Boyle, Ph.D. who co-authored the report.

While James has written a scientific paper with a suitably technical title, don’t be intimidated. My article will look at the data from a fundraiser’s perspective. If you want more detail or want to explore the science behind the findings, you can download the full report.

The three key findings of the report are:

 

  • Bequest giving and current giving stimulate different parts of the brain. This suggests that different motivators and de-motivators are at work. While the report compares and contrasts the differences in brain activity where current versus bequest giving are concerned, I’ll limit myself here to a review of the findings related to bequest giving.

  

  • Making a charitable bequest decision involves the internal visualization system, specifically those parts of the brain engaged for recalling autobiographical events, including the recent death of a loved one.

  

  • Charitable bequest decision making engages parts of the brain associated with, what researchers call, “management of death salience.” In other words, and not surprisingly, charitable bequest decision making involves reminders of one’s mortality.

 

So, what do these findings mean for development professionals?

Fundraisers need to understand that charitable bequest decision making is about autobiographical connections, not numbers, such as taxes, or even the needs of the charity. James suggests, “Start conversations by working to trigger autobiographical memories associated with the charity, or the cause the charity represents. The goal is to lay-out for the donor how a bequest gift to the organization fits neatly into their autobiography.”

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