Research on Charitable Giving

Homer, Pamela Miles (2021), “When Sadness and Hope Work to Motivate Charitable Giving,” Journal of Business Research, 133 (September), 420-431.

When sadness and hope work to motivate charitable giving


  • The power of using hope and sadness in a donation appeal for a human-needs cause is explored.
  • Empirical evidence from three studies supports the proposed sympathy + inspiration-helping hypothesis.
  • Appeals that combine hope and sadness produce enhanced levels of sympathy, inspiration and donations.
  • Improving (vs. declining) emotion appeals (sad to hopeful) generated higher donations.
  • When mental resources are reduced, donations declined for the mixed emotion appeal.


Traditionally, charities that seek donations for human-suffering causes have relied heavily on emotional appeals designed to motivate negative feelings such as sadness and fear. Past research supports a sympathy-helping hypothesis that donation campaigns that use images of human-suffering to evoke sympathy and empathy increase prosocial behaviors. Empirical evidence also supports an inspiration-helping hypothesis whereby the positive emotion of strength inspires people to donate. Consistent with the proposed sympathy + inspiration-helping hypothesis, appeals that combine hope and sadness (vs. hope-dominant and sadness-dominant appeals) elicit sympathy and inspiration that motivate increased donations toward human-suffering causes. In addition, Study 2 results support that improving emotion appeals (sad to hopeful) generate higher donations than declining emotion appeals (hopeful to sad). Study 3 shows that cognitive load moderates the emotion-donation relationship. Under high load when mental resources are constrained, donations declined for the sadness + hope mixed emotion appeal.