‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’
Much of the original groundwork into behavioural analysis is due to Thornedikes principle of effect, which brought to the forefront, the idea that "the effects of action are among the causes for future action." This idea then paved the way for future advances in behavioural change, bringing us to the works of Skinner and the use of reinforcements. The basic notion being that you can target specific behaviour and affect the frequency of its occurrence using positive or negative reinforcement.
If you wanted behaviour to happen more often you create a positive association with it through what subsequently follows e.g. praise/approval, contrastingly creating a negative association with behaviour you wanted to happen less often e.g. through punishment.
In my future career, I plan to be working in the third sector, campaigning and raising awareness for issues along the lines of international development and social change. A huge part of this will involve motivating people and businesses to give to such causes, either through involvement or donations.
Encouraging charitable activism and giving is not an easy task, some people simply aren’t interested in or motivated to give to such causes. In the increasingly capitalist society that we live in – many people have lost sight of the value of giving to others, instead seeking large salaries and "nailing a ‘higher position’ for themselves in the system." In light of this, is there a way to reinforce the value of giving?
As a parent, being an active giver, would no doubt have positive effects on your child’s view of such action - if its something you care about and make a big deal of then your child is already likely to want to be a part of it too. However, you can go one step further than that, reinforcing your child’s own giving abilities by sending out positive messages in response to your children’s altruistic behavior. Praising your child when they help and are considerate to others (school friends and family members) as well as resounding approval in response to participation in charitable events e.g. sponsored walks, bake sales & charity raffles etc.
There are also ways of targeting behavior that goes against this giving mentality, through negative reinforcement e.g reacting with messages of disappointment or even punishment, that way children would associate being selfish or refusing to help others with disapproval - something they would actively seek to avoid in future.
If the message of helping and giving to others is one that is always positively affirmed by you as parents, this could have an instrumental effect on whether they see value in and actively get involved in charitable giving later in life.
These tactics don’t have to be isolated to the parent and child relationship – "Positive reinforcement plays a critical role in the way we learn to give, no matter how old or young we are." A study conducted by the Cabinet’s office and the CAD wanted to explore whether charitable giving could be increased through exploiting a number of behavioral insights. By playing on the fact that many of us look to others for directives on how to behave, (social proof Cialdini) they found sending out personalised messages from work superiors or newsletters containing names of colleagues who had also donated to charity, increased donations. This is a positive reinforcement in itself, the action of giving to charity will affirm that you are following a social norm, doing what others before you have done - this notion of fitting in, combined with sought approval from those around you, would also, hopefully increase the chances of you donating to charity again. The study showed that as an employer there are ways of "rewarding behavior you seek to encourage" through things such as matched funding schemes or through non financial incentives e.g. offering to publish a list of names of people who donated books to the public library increased donations (Cotterfill, John and Richardson)
In conclusion, there are ways of changing behavior in regards to giving to charity through creating positive associations between the act of giving and the rewards/outcomes that follow. Making a difference is made possible through the message we communicate and the values we hold, if that is one of positivity in regards to helping others, caring about causes and giving to charity then who knows what we could achieve.
Learning to give: how important is positive reinforcement in expanding philanthropic capital? (http://www.givingbetter.org blog entry )
‘Operant Behaviour’ Skinner 1633
‘Applying behavioral insights to charitable giving’ – Cabinets Office (Behavioral Insights Team) 2013