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Why some disasters generate more donations than others

Howard Lake | 16 November 2005 | News

An article in The Washington Post by Jacqueline L. Salmon looks at why some disasters generate greater philanthropic responses than others.

“What is it that triggers that “must-give” button in our heads?” asks Jacqueline L. Salmon in “Some Disasters Compel Us to Give”. “And why do some disasters push that button when others don’t?” she adds.

By talking with American and international relief agencies, she concludes that the following conditions contribute to a greater public response.


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Michael Gilbert’s Nonprofit Online News ably sums these up:

“(1) “Natural” disasters beat manmade disasters.

(2) Sudden disasters beat slow-moving crises.

(3) TV counts.

(4) Drama counts.

(5) Timing counts.

(6) Ease of giving makes a big difference.

(7) Personal experience helps.

(8) Simple beats complex.”

Interestingly, Salmon adds that “disaster giving doesn’t supplant donations to other causes”. She explains that “that’s because individual giving to disasters tends to be small – three-quarters of the people who donated to a Sept. 11 charity gave $100 or less – so people can comfortably keep up their other giving.”