On November 10th, 2016 we learned about

Payments to persuaders pare down how well they drum up donations

It’s a pretty straight-forward assumption that rewarding people helps motivate them to carry out tasks. Just about anyone would rather wash dishes for a $10.00 than for nothing. Commissions assume that bigger rewards should provide bigger motivations, spurring people to be more successful at their work. However, there are side-effects to compensation sometimes, as it may actually hurt job performance in specific instances, such as when the task at hand involves charitable giving. In that case, charity may work best when it starts with the employee.

Earnings vs. earnestness

An experiment was done where test participants were tasked with soliciting donations via short, persuasive videos. All participants were interested in the cause receiving the money, but half had the situation sweetened by the promise of a one dollar payment for ever 10 dollars they brought in. Videos were then shown to 243 potential donors who did not know which pitches were tied to a payment or not. Donors were given money to contribute, so their personal finances wouldn’t be as much of an influence on their decision to donate or not. It was up to the impression made by the so-called “persuaders” in the videos.

Without knowing the full parameters of what was being tested, the donors proved to be good at picking out which persuaders were promised a payment. They generally rated them as being less sincere in their videos, and felt less motivated to donate to them. It seemed that receiving a payment for their pitch created an internal conflict for persuaders, and that was somehow reflected in the quality of their solicitations.

Payments without personal profit

A follow-up looked at the idea that feelings of insincerity could possibly be reversed through a different kind of incentive. Rather than pay the persuaders, the offer was changed to be a matching donation for the charity itself, possibly making the persuader feel like they were helping more without any conflict of interest. However, that didn’t seem to make them any more effective than the control group, which had not additional payment structure to worry about.

This study didn’t pin down exactly what cues made the difference to donors, but it does seem to point conclusively to the need for persuaders to feel honest about their requests. Further study is planned to see what verbal and nonverbal behaviors are most common with paid persuaders, and which cues bother donors, which may have application beyond fund-raising.

Source: Paying do-gooders makes them less persuasive, Scienmag

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