You have to love serious academics whose studies emerge from the humble everyday assumptions that “snowballs, rubber balls, books or shoes” are likely to hurt more when thrown from close range than from a distance.

Of course they do, which is why we apply that knowledge to other, less tangible aspects of life through the use of metaphors.

‘The Domain of Persuasion’

Working from the assumption that “closeness equals strength of effect,” Maferima Touré-Tillery of Northwestern University and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago have tested this commonsensical notion in the area of charitable giving in six studies. The results are useful in what the researchers call “the domain of persuasion.”

When people are genuinely motivated by a desire to help others — rather than stroke their own egos and appear virtuous — they are more willing to donate money to causes whose beneficiaries they perceive as close rather than far. Similarly, real as well as perceived spatial distance “negatively influence the expected impact, and hence the likelihood of charitable action.” One case the researchers looked at involved a university fundraising campaign. The farther alums lived from the alma mater, the less generous they were.

Their research has real-life implications for nonprofits eager to motivate contributors and potential contributors. People are more likely to give their time and money when they believe the beneficiaries are close to home and the impact will be more intense.

Want More Information on This Topic?

Contact Rikki Amos, director, U.S. Public Affairs Practice, Public Affairs Council

Additional Resources

New Approaches to Philanthropy

Check out our event on In-District Grassroots and Advocacy Strategies on June 15.