How to Trick Alumni Into Giving

OK, maybe trick is strong. But a recent study found that asking students to recount a positive college experience made them more likely to make a donation.

Participants — undergraduates at the University of New Hampshire — were asked to recall either a specific positive or a specific negative college-related memory. They were told that it was a for study about the college experience at New Hampshire. They were then told that, as a thank-you for participating, the researchers would donate two dollars to either the university or the United Way. (The researchers did, in case you were wondering, actually make the donations.)

Those who were asked to recall a positive memory were more likely to donate money to the university. They also indicated a stronger desire to attend a class reunion.

What’s interesting is that students didn’t seem to realize that recalling that positive memory had influenced them. When asked to give their reasons for donating, they came up with generic answers like “I believe education is one of the most valuable things a person could have.”

The positive memories were, according to the paper, about helpful advisors and such, not about that time we all ran naked through the quad.

(The research was done by Kie J. Kuwabara and David B. Pillemer. The paper is not available free, but the abstract is here. Above is the University of New Hampshire, a place where both positive and negative memories are made.)

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