Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Would you like to donate some money? Yes I’m just asking.

Charities with different cultural background have different ways of fundraising. In the UK, it is not difficult to fund-raise, you can easily find a charity shop, organize a bake sale, or even participate in a charity skydiving if you fancy! In Hong Kong, flag-selling is probably one of the most popular ways to fund-raise. You don’t have to be innovative – apply for a permit, prepare a money bag and a bunch of stickers, then you’re ready to go.

What is ‘flag-selling’?

A ‘flag’ is a sticker with the name and the logo of the organization. Flag-selling begins with a volunteer asking, ‘Would you like to buy a flag? We’re fundraising for (organization’s name)’. People can refuse, or choose to donate as much as they like, then the volunteers will give each of them a flag ‘in return’. The whole process usually lasts less than a minute. The sticker will then be placed on your clothing so that others can see that you made some monetary contribution to the organization (Well maybe it shouldn’t be the main focus), and you can avoid being asked for donations again for the rest of the day (good news for people in rush). Flag-selling is an important way to fund-raise as the its cost is relatively lower than organizing other events, it usually takes up less than 10% of the revenue. At the same time, just asking, as the simplest technique, is used to persuade people to donate.

'Flags' and a money bag for people to insert their donations.

Flynn & Lake (2008)'s study illustrated the effect of 'just asking' technique. They conducted a series of studies to examine the prediction of how likely people will offer help when they are asked directly. In the first study, participants were instructed to ask strangers to fill in questionnaires for them. Half of the participants made predictions on the likelihood that strangers would comply to their request before they started to ask. In the second study, participants were asked to borrow a cell phone from strangers, or request an escort to a specific location. In the third study, participants asked others for donations to raise money for a nonprofit organization.

Figure 1 shows the results from 3 studies. The results of these studies were consistent with each other, showing that the actual compliance was higher than the predicted compliance. The aim of conducting subsequent studies was to replicate the results from the first study in a more realistic setting. People tended to underestimate the probability of people complying with direct requests for help. When volunteers sell flag, they tend to avoid asking people who seem to be unlikely to donate. It can be people who avoided eye contact with them, people in rush, or simply based on their facial expressions. However, Flynn & Lake (2008) illustrated that even strangers are more likely to offer help than how we expected. Asking is the key to change what you think about them. The more people you ask, the more likely they are going to donate.

If I’m going to sell flags for charity next time, I’ll probably ask every single person I see on the street! No, you shouldn’t make the decision for them, ask them and let them decide!


Flynn, F. J., & Lake, V. K. B. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(1), 128-143.

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