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Why We Take the Hard Way Out
Snap quiz: Your friend tells you she's participating in a fundraiser and asks you to donate money to her cause. You've got the funds, and you adore the friend. In which situation would you be more likely to pony up?
(a) Your friend is training for her first marathon with a group that raises money for cancer research.
(b) Your friend is hosting a masquerade charity ball to raise money for a children's after-school program.
[Find out which option most people choose, after the jump.]
A surprising number of potential patrons would choose (a), in
which their friend is willing to sacrifice, endure and suffer for her cause, over (b), which frankly sounds like a blast. Many of us would even ask our
friend if there's room in her training group. This
giving rule has been coined the "martyrdom effect" by Christopher
Olivola, PhD, a behavioral economist at the University of Warwick Business
School in the U.K., and to the athletes/editors over at Runner's World, his team's research supporting these
findings explains the booming popularity of running-related
fundraisers. From the article:
Olivola explains that common sense dictates that when making a charitable contribution, people prefer giving through a process that's pleasant and enjoyable rather than difficult and painful. "But our research shows that, in some cases, people do the opposite. They contribute more to a cause if the fund-raising process entails pain and effort—either for themselves or for a friend—than if it is painful and easy." Furthermore, Olivola's research shows that if you're running a road race for charity, your difficult efforts will draw more donations if you're running against something painful, such as cancer, than if you're running for something pleasurable, such as an orchestra or a museum. "That's why, from a fund-raising perspective, the combination of the marathon and cancer works so well," Olivola says. "The pain of the marathon is more congruent with the suffering of a cancer patient."I can see how Olivola's altruistic "martyrdom effect"—or the idea that our good deeds are made even better by a sprinkling of blood, tears or at least a little sweat—has taken hold in other areas of my life. For example, the time I decided to learn how to knit in order to make a sweater for a recently divorced friend, or that plan to bring my sleepless new-parent friends a home-baked lasagna (a first for me and my unreliable oven). The lesson that this would-be martyr learned is that you only get the payoff if you actually cross the finish line or deliver the goods. And that's why all of my new-parent friends now get a "Welcome Baby" meal of...cold pasta salad.