Nearly two years ago, The Chronicle of Philanthropy published an interesting article (August 9, 2007) that had important implications for fundraising nonprofit professionals working in the human services sector. The main premise of the piece is that charities involved in raising money for the needy should “emphasize their recipients’ desire to work.”

Conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, the study selected 144 participants who were then given an online questionnaire to determine their level of humanitarian and altruistic behaviors. Participants were given $10 and provided with information about three real-life female welfare recipients and told they could give any portion of their money to the women, and could then keep whatever was left.

Regarding the welfare recipients, all information was the same, except the following:

• Woman #1 had worked fulltime in the past and wanted to find another job
• Woman #2 had not worked in five years and was not interested in obtaining a job
• Woman #3 provided no information about her work history

Which woman do you think received the greatest amount of charitable donations? You guessed it, Woman #1. However, she received more than 4 times as much money as Woman #2 (the woman not seeking employment). Another interesting finding was that people who scored high on the “humanitarian questionnaire” gave an average of nearly $5 to Woman #1, while participants who scored low on the questionnaire gave an average of $1.50 to Woman #1. Of note, Woman #3 received an average of less than $2 from all participants, regardless of their “humanitarian score.”

As Christina Fong, a research scientist at CMU, wrote, “It is important for charities to keep in mind the power of the desire to give money only to worthy causes…reminding potential donors about difficult circumstances and bad luck faced by the poor [perhaps with specific examples] is likely to help more than merely focusing on the poverty and suffering.”

In these tough economic times, fundraisers, it’s important to show your donors that their dollars are being spent on worthy causes and individuals. Whether you agree with this approach or not it’s what works. Then after successfully making your goal you can use those funds to find Woman #1 her job; inspire Woman #2 to reenter the workforce; and assist Woman #3 in creating a resume and finding a job, too.

(The author wishes to thank Maria Polinsky, Director of Development at Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, for calling my attention to the following article. Thanks again Maria!)