Galway study examines motivations of people posting about charity on social media

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A new study from NUI Galway has outlined the different kinds of people who post about charity on their social media, from ‘Quiet Donors’ who give and don’t say much, to ‘Dirty Altruists’ who are the most like to seek attention.

The study, conducted in partnership between NUIG and the University of of Zaragoza in Spain, follows on from a wave of fundraising and charitable initiatives such as the ‘ice bucket challenge’ which became huge online and social media trends.

The researchers wanted to know whether people who posted about charities on social media were making charity donations, or whether they were all about the action, rather than the cause.

Fundraising and awareness drives for charities have become even more linked with social media and online presence in the past year, as COVID-19 has prevented or seriously hampered charities ability to conduct in person fundraising.

Dr Elaine Wallace of NUIG said “Although social media can be an excellent way to spread your message, there is some cynicism about these campaigns, as people participate but not everyone donates. One critic even labelled these campaigns a ‘narcissists’ bonanza’.”

‘Conspicuous Donation Behaviour’ was the term previously used to describe acts of highly conspicuous charity, such as wearing a ribbon to show you donated to a cause.

But, as Dr Wallace highlights “no-one knows whether our social media posts reflect what we do offline. We could post a selfie as part of a charitable campaign to show others how good we are, without ever donating.”

“Or we might donate, and we might also post online to make sure everyone on social media knows about it. And this poses the question, are we ‘dirty altruists’?”

Dr Elaine Wallace of the J.E Cairnes School of Business at NUI Galway

The study investigated the views of 243 Irish and 296 US Facebook users who had posted about a charity on Facebook, and based on several factors came up with four broad types of people.

Quiet Donors: Non-materialistic and without much interest in impressing others. They are not overly active on social media, but are highly likely to donate and to be inconspicuous about it.

Friendly Donors: Active and expressive online about a charity that has a personal meaning to them. Not worried about standing out on Facebook or impressing other. They are likely to donate time and money to a charity with personal meaning.

Facebook Expressives: Very conspicuous in their posting about charity online, and driven by a need to impress their friends. But they also have a low intention of actually giving time or money, so their real world behaviour doesn’t match their online posts.

Dirty Altruists: Have the highest number of facebook friends and the greatest desire to stand out, so they are careful to post about popular topics. Admitted in the survey that they post primarily to impress others, but they donate money offline.