Does Saying No to a Request for a Donation Make Us More Likely to Say Yes the Next Time?

We believe the answer to this question is more nuanced than a simple yes or no. Our research would suggest that whether the two requests (initial donation request and the subsequent request) are related may have an effect on our likelihood to comply with the second request after initially declining the first donation request.

We believe there are two factors at play. First is the moral balancing effect. People who declined to perform a good deed may feel the need to “cleanse” themselves by complying with the second, prosocial request. On the other hand, people desire to remain consistent. So those declining the donation request may want to remain consistent and also decline the second request. While these two effects would suggest two different outcomes, we hypothesized that people’s focus on moral balancing or consistency will depend on whether or not the two requests are related. If they are unrelated, people may think to “cleanse” themselves by complying with the second request after rejecting the first. If related, then people may reject the second request as they do NOT want to appear to be hypocritical by being inconsistent.

Say people rejected an initial donation request from UNICEF to help vaccinate children against polio, and then are asked to make a donation contribution to Reading Is Fundamental. They may feel that complying with the second request can help them cleanse themselves of not supporting the first cause. On the other hand, if the second request is the same request for support for UNICEF, then people’s desire for consistency may be heightened, leading them to reject the second request.

Gary Hsieh is a joint-appointed assistant professor in the departments of communication and telecommunication, information studies and media, and a co-founder of the BITLab, at Michigan State University.

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