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.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The 1% Project

Did you know that the average student income, though it may feel small sometimes, is still over 9 times the global average income? (see Appendix). This means that even we, as students, can do a lot with our money to help those who aren’t as well off. It was this idea that motivated the 1% Project, a project aimed at encouraging students to donate just 1% of their summer student loan payment to a charity of their choice.

Students at Warwick are estimated to live on £790 a month (see Appendix). This isn’t much, but given how much richer they are than other people in the world, we thought that we could do more to encourage people to give more than they currently do to charity. Those with more financial means typically give higher amounts to charity (Bekkers & Wiepking, 2011) and "feeling poor" can make someone less likely to donate (Wiepking & Breeze, 2012), although some evidence suggests that those in lower-income brackets donate more than those in middle-income brackets (Silver, 1980; Bennet, 2012). While the evidence is unclear as to whether students would be more or less motivated to donate than other income groups, the relative size of our income indicates that it would be impactful to try to encourage more altruistic behaviour in the student population at Warwick.

The aim of this campaign was to attempt to elicit student donations at a time when they would be most comfortable giving. We decided that asking students to pledge to donate a portion of their summer student loan payment about one month in advance would best meet this goal. This is because pre-commitment strategies are effective for sticking to commitments we might otherwise be tempted to give up (Schelling, 1978). When an individual identifies with a particular behaviour or course of action, personal and interpersonal pressures cause them to behave consistently with it when making future decisions on how to behave (Salancik, 1977). Consistency is desired because it is associated with personal and intellectual strength - it is so powerful that it can even compel us to do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do (Cialdini, 2007).
We hypothesised that asking individuals to pledge to donate before their loan came in would lead them to act consistently with their pledge and motivate them to actually donate when the money came in.

In relation to charitable behaviour more specifically, evidence suggests that people donate more when they are asked to commit to future donations (Breman, 2011) and that charities can generate additional giving by introducing time in the giving process (Andreoni & Serra-Garcia, 2016). Other research shows that students donate roughly ⅓ more of a cash prize when asked before receiving the prize than when they were asked after (Kellner, Reinstein, & Riener, 2015), indicating that charities can use the principle ‘Give if You Win’. If students perceive their loan payments as some kind of ‘bonus’ or ‘prize’, which we hypothesise that they would, this would make them more likely to donate a portion of it.

However, not all evidence indicates that a pre-commitment strategy is the best method for eliciting donations. Gaudeal and Kaczmarek (2017) demonstrate that while making pledges the default can increase pledges, it may not increase donations because the nudge might only affect participants who are more or less indifferent between pledging and not pledging and who are thus unlikely to actually do the effort of translating their pledges into donations. However, this research involved a very small amount of money (€2) received as a reward for completing an experiment and did not allow the participants to choose which charity to donate to and so does not directly apply to our methodology. Nonetheless, this conflicting evidence somewhat decreased our confidence that pledging is the best way to elicit actual donations.

What we did and how
In order to recruit pledges, we first created a promotional poster, which was used in conjunction with emails sent out to various society members and posted on Facebook pages associated with the university.
Promotional poster

Promotional email

Persuasive techniques
1. Manded altercast
By telling the reader they are part of “a generous bunch” of people, they are given the identity of being the kind of person who donates to charity. Manded altercasting involves making an identity more prominent to the individual, and by doing so, the likelihood of them playing out the social role associated with the identity is increased (Weinstein & Deutschberger, 1963). 

The reader is also assumed to be part of an in-group of generous people, which includes the researchers who the email is from. Turner (1982) argued that members of our in-group exert persuasive influence through a process called referent informational influence, in which individuals conform to a group norm because it provides information about appropriate norms, enhancing our own certainty when we need to make a decision.

2.  Social proof
Stating that students “will be pledging to donate” this summer informs the reader that this is something other people, similar to themselves, will be signing up to take part in. This makes use of the technique of social proof - that we view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it (Cialdini, 2007).
Deutsch and Gerard (1955) explain that this is due to two psychological processes:
(1) Providing information about what to do and think. Usually, when a lot of people are doing something it is the right thing to do. 
(2) Providing normative influences - due to social pressure to go along with the group.
According to Cialdini, social proof works best under conditions of uncertainty, because this is when we are most likely to look to others, and when it involves people we are similar to, as these people provide better insight into what is correct behaviour for ourselves.

3. Only 1%
By framing the donation amount as 1% of the loan, rather than the actual amount of between £10-15, the donation feels like a smaller loss to the student. Individuals react to a choice differently depending on how it is presented, as Pacini and Epstein (1999) showed that a ratio of larger numbers (e.g. 10 in 100) seems larger than the same ratio with smaller numbers (e.g. 1 in 10). Li and Chapman (2013) proposed the 100% effect - that 100% of a small number looms larger than 10% of a large number. This is because people focus on the apparent percentage presented, and tend to ignore the scope to which it applies. For our project, we assumed that a similar effect would apply to the even smaller percentage of 1%.

4. The visuals
According to the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion, there are two routes we can take when making decisions. The first is the central route, which requires carefully considering the information given and using it to form an argument, and occurs when the individual’s motivation and ability is high. Alternatively, the peripheral route takes places when an individual uses shortcuts to make judgments when their motivation or ability is low.

Morrison and Vogel (1998) provided evidence that computer-generated visuals impact the persuasiveness of a presentation because they align with both the central route and the peripheral route to persuasion. Visuals both provide relevant content related to the message, targeting the central route, and provide peripheral cues as information about source credibility and attitudes (Seiler, 2009). With regards to donation amounts, using digital methods can also increase the amount donated. Reinstein and Riener (2012) show that participants donated roughly twice as much of earnings for completing an experiment when the amount was presented on a computer screen rather than placed on the desk in cash, indicating that students will be more likely to donate if they are encouraged to do so via an online poster.

Online pledge form
Once they clicked the link, pledgers were taken to an online pledge form to fill out:

The pledge form assumes commitment from the pledger, again linking to the manded altercast technique, as the reader has been told that they have already decided to commit.

Finally, a day before the loans were due, a follow-up email was sent to everyone who had pledged to donate. At the beginning of the email, the reader is reminded that they have pledged to donate, and what a huge difference they are can make. Repeating these messages not only reinforces the other persuasion techniques contained in them, but increases believability, acceptance and liking due to the ‘mere exposure effect’ (Zajonc, 1968).

Follow up email

Although loans came in last week, pledgers weren’t given any time pressure to donate so although this means we are unable to measure the impact, we hope that when they do make the decision to donate, it will now be because they have make the internal choice to do so, rather than just complying to the norm. Internalisation is genuine acceptance, where behaviour is congruent with the individual’s true beliefs (Kelman, 1958), therefore this type of conformity is long-lasting. Pledgers were told that although this project is a one-off, their donation doesn’t have to be! We hope that they will be inspired to donate again in the future, even if they haven’t been able to do so this time.

Jess Taylor and Ollie Base

The average student budget is £790/month, which is £9480/year (Save the Student, 2015). According to Giving What We Can (2014), this is over nine times the global average income.

Andreoni, J. and Serra-Garcia, M. (2016). Time-inconsistent charitable giving. Technical report, National Bureau of Economic Research.

Bekkers, R. and Wiepking, P. (2011). Who gives? A literature review of predictors of charitable giving. Part One: Religion, education, age and socialisation. Voluntary Sector Review, 2(3), 337–65.

Bennett, R. (2012). Why urban poor donate: A study of low-income charitable giving in London. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41(5), 870–891. 

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Save the Student. (2015). Student Money Survey 2016. Retrieved from:

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Wiepking, P. and Breeze, B. (2012). Feeling poor, acting stingy: the effect of money perceptions on charitable giving. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 17(1), 13–24.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9(2p2), 1.

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