If you wanted people to donate money to help a stranger, how would you do it?
A good first step to take would be to make the recipient seem like less of a stranger. Research on altruism generally shows that we’re more likely to behave generously toward people we know and like. Interventions to increase altruistic behavior often focus on making the recipient more real to the giver–by using photos and stories, by urging the giver to take the perspective of the recipient, and so forth.
Kiva is a microlending program that allows donors to contribute small amounts of money to people around the world in loan form (and it gets paid back! So you can recycle the money back into another loan!). Each potential recipient has a profile describing him or herself and the project, usually something subsidizing a business or educational endeavor. The profiles themselves are a useful tool for personalizing the borrower and making her plight more real. On my last visit to the site, I was presented with this after checking out from a loan:
This profile of Lindiwe offers an additional opportunity to behave altruistically. I don’t know for sure, because this is the only time I’ve seen it, but it seems like this profile might have been chosen for me because of the types of people I typically lend to through Kiva (women with small business ventures). Lending money feels less like a conceptual exercise and more like a way to help a real person when you see this type of information. This is relatedness for social good.