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Semantic Framing: The Gift of Encouraging Donations

Charity is universally lauded, yet charitable organisations often struggle to raise the amount of funds they need to meet their prosocial goals. One way to address this challenge is by reframing solicitations as gifts rather than donations. Gift framing shifts donors’ perception of their relationship with beneficiaries as a close social connection, increasing their willingness to give. However, marketers of charitable organisations need to avoid gift framing when appealing to those who prefer social distance from beneficiaries due to a need for status.

Most charitable organisations work towards prosocial goals and public welfare. Their roles

and efforts are highly appreciated in all societies. Donations are the lifeblood of charitable organisations, and charity is considered a noble value in every culture. Yet, charitable organisations often struggle to raise enough funds to meet their needs. Even the funds that are raised come at a substantial cost (e.g., the top 100 US charities spent $0.11 per $100 raised). Therefore, a study investigates the question: How can charity organisations increase the effectiveness of their solicitation?

The study found that semantic reframing the activity of charitable giving as a gift rather than

as a donation can make a difference. The two words—“donation” and “gift”—are often used interchangeably by charitable organisations. However, they don’t carry the same meaning, and which word is used can affect how people perceive the act of giving. More people are generally willing to give in response to the reframed appeal asking for “gifting”. People are also inclined to give more in response to it.

Promotional language matters in retail just as much as it does for charitable organisations. Read on to find out how smart use of promotional language can impact retailers and public policy.

This difference results from a shift in the perception about the giving. Gift framing reshapes

the relationship between donor and beneficiary by applying social exchange principles to the scenario. Gifting has associations of caring, love, connection, and social camaraderie. When perceiving an exchange as a gift, these feelings are evoked in people. The perspective shifts from a socially distant and hierarchical relationship to a relationship of close social connection, persuading people to be more generous.

However, social distance can also affect the willingness to give in some cases. Where the

donor desires social distance between themselves and the beneficiary, which is usually due to a psychological need for higher status as compared to the beneficiary, the reframed appeal fails. In such cases, the act of donation or charity is what motivates the donors as it signals status of superiority. It is also less effective when the beneficiary is physically or psychologically close to the donor (local beneficiaries). Gift framing also doesn’t work if both “gift” and “donation” are used together. In that case, the perception of the social distance remains unchanged.

The study has important practical implications for charitable organisations. Firstly, they can

make a difference to their donation collection by making a slight change in the way they frame appeals. Instead of seeking “donations,” they can present the charitable giving as “gifts”. This change is easy, free of cost, and widely applicable. Marketers of charitable organisations can and should make semantic framing a part of their marketing strategy. Further, they should avoid using both gift framing and donation framing simultaneously as it weakens the impact of gift framing.

At the same time, they can apply segmentation to their donors based on the social distance

they have and prefer from beneficiaries. For those who prefer a higher social distance, marketers can frame the giving as a donation, but for those who prefer a closer social distance, they can frame the giving as a gift. Similarly, for those who are close to the beneficiaries physically or psychologically, they can frame the giving as donation rather than gift. Intelligent use of semantic framing when making appeals can make a big difference to the effectiveness of charitable solicitation.

Marketers of commercial products also need to frame their communications carefully. Here’s how the right order of information can make a difference to firms’ top line!

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