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Values research changes focus of charitable campaigns

Our research has fundamentally changed how charities approach environmental-based marketing campaigns

Welsh countryside

Charitable organisations are constantly required to come up with new and inventive marketing campaigns to encourage people to donate to their worthy causes.  For those aiming to engage in eco-friendly behaviour with their donors, they tend to appeal to the financial benefits from doing so, rather than ethical values.

Since 2009, our researchers have been examining the psychology of this approach, and have discovered that such charities maybe taking the wrong approach.

It’s clear that delegates are more persuaded by hearing the evidence first-hand from scientists than through an intermediary. As a result, campaigners and professionals in the third sector and public sector have become much more mindful of the values that they engage in their campaigns and projects.

Rich Hawkins, Director of the Public Interest Research Centre

Examining behaviours

Professor Greg Maio and researchers from our Values in Action Research Centre conducted several experiments in which they examined the effects of values on how people behaved.

One experiment required a group of participants to pick out words from a list like "ambitious" and "successful", while a second group was asked to find words like "forgiving" and "honest." Both groups then had to complete a puzzle and then indicate whether they would help with additional research - for free.

The results indicated that those who had been asked to find words linked to ambition became better at solving the puzzle.  But more importantly, these people were less inclined to give additional help to the research.

This suggested that emphasising benefits such as money and status may not be the best way to encourage behaviour change.  This led to Maio's team specifically tested this idea in relation to 'green' behaviour.

In a further experiment, a group of participants were asked to consider the financial rewards of using a car-sharing scheme, with another group asked to consider the environmental benefits of such an arrangement. 

It transpired that those who focussed on the monetary aspect actually recycled less waste – a green behaviour not even mentioned to participants during the experiment - than those who thought about the green concerns.

This, along with additional experiments, lead to the conclusion that people were more likely to spontaneously exhibit eco-friendly behaviour when campaigns appealed to their concern for the welfare of others and the environment, rather than financial savings.

About Common Cause

Common Cause is a network of people working to help rebalance cultural values to create a more equitable, sustainable and democratic society.

Changing communications

The findings have stimulated ongoing debate among eco-campaigners and a wider range of professionals in the third sector, government, the national press and online publications.

Most significantly, Professor Maio's research helped provide impetus for Common Cause for Nature.  This project has spawned a global network that is sponsored by Oxfam, the Public Interest Research Centre and WWF-UK, with additional finance provided by organisations including Friends of the Earth.

With input from Professor Maio, Common Cause produced a guide that champions the benefits of values-based communications to the public.  To date, this document has been downloaded more than 11,000 times.  It has led to NGOs and environmental organisations to revise their marketing campaigns.

The research has also had significant impact at Government level, influencing policy discussions in both the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.

Meet our experts

The Values in Action research group examines how the world's diverse range of social values are translated into actions.