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Sparking Convo: Getting Out What You Put In – Positive Reinforcement in Charitable Giving

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In 2009, Walt Disney World launched its now-famous “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” campaign. Partnering with the HandsOn Network, Disney Parks gave a free one-day ticket to each individual who volunteered with the Network to any one of the six Disney Parks in Orlando or Los Angeles through the end of 2010. The opportunity to not only volunteer and do a good deed as a family, combined with the once-in-a-lifetime award, ultimately encouraged over one million people to volunteer within the first three months of the campaign alone. The entire campaign was so successful that after its initial 6-month run, Disney extended it another 7 months through December, 2010.


Clearly, the overwhelming response to the campaign brings to light some interesting questions in the realm of charitable marketing. By offering rewards, can companies help encourage charitable giving, either in the physical or monetary sense? Do the rewards need to be tangible, or can intangible rewards work just as well? Does this kind of reinforcement system encourage future and repeat behaviors? And finally, is it ethical?

The answer to question number one is, quite obviously, yes. By coming up with a compelling enough reward, people can be persuaded to do almost anything. But the question on tangible versus intangible rewards is interesting. Take, for example, GiveWell, a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 that aims to bring a measure of reassurance to potential donors in their charitable giving efforts. Through a rigorous ranking and research process, GiveWell ranks the charities on a global scale for the amount of impact they have with the money they are given. In this way, donors can know that the charities they give to will be having a measurable impact with their money – in effect, getting the reward of seeing where their money is going and the effect they were able to have on a charitable organization. Since its founding six years ago, GiveWell has gained a huge amount of media response and is a well-respected resource for potential donors, especially those who are donating for the first time.

givewell logo - real change for your dollar - high res(1)


Through this kind of intangible reward, philanthropist individuals are encouraged to donate repeatedly – answering our third question – if only for the ego-boosting effect of bragging about a charity that did something amazing with their money.  Tangible rewards such as that offered by Disney may help families and individuals find activities they previously hadn’t considered and in such a way encourage repeat behavior; however, the appeal of charitable giving seems to be much more intrinsically motivated than extrinsically and as such, calls for marketing that speaks more to the self-rewarding aspects of charitable giving if there is to be hope for repeat behavior.

Finally, the reputation points that the “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” campaign earned for Walt Disney World in the realm of corporate social responsibility are immense. It can’t be argued that by promoting volunteerism through what some have called “bribery,” Disney did a fantastic job marketing its own resorts and theme parks as places of magic, where good people who do good deeds get to visit. At the same time, GiveWell speaks to the donors who are looking for the most cost-effective way to spend the money they’ve allocated for philanthropy. While both of these efforts have some good to them, what are their ethical consequences? Is it fair to call the Disney campaign a “handout for service,” even though, without it, over a million people wouldn’t have volunteered? Should organizations like GiveWell, who provide services that cater to the common man’s greed, be viewed as valuable additions to the charitable giving sector?

While the ethics of rewards in charitable giving remain controversial, there’s no doubt that marketing campaigns and organizations like this are providing effective and valuable ways to get consumers to perform good deeds. How can you motivate your clients, employees, and consumers to do the same?


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