Flipping the Philanthropy Switch

Flipping the Philanthropy Switch

The Life You Can Save is focused on increasing pledges and subsequent donations in the fight against global poverty.  On a broader level, we are concerned with changing the culture of giving so that people think and feel that using one's discretionary income to help the world's poorest people is a responsibility like helping one's family or neighbors in times of need.  In order to help us achieve our goals we are engaging in research relationships to learn more about what messaging, in general, best facilitates donations and 'pledging' to fight global poverty effectively. We will also be looking at individual differences, psychological and demographic, that may affect responses to messaging.  For example, do some people respond more from the head and others respond more from the heart?  How can you appeal to these different people?  We also hope to be helpful to social psychologists in advancing their academic research that leads all of us to a better understanding of human behavior.

Lara Aknin, Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University

Peter Singer, Jon Behar and I are very excited about the contacts we have made with researchers in the fields of social psychology and economics.  These researchers include an international consortium led by Paul Slovic, out of Eugene, Oregon; a group led by Elizabeth Dunn, (author of Happy Money), including her graduate student Ashley Whillans who runs a project entitled "Flipping the Philanthropy Switch" at the University of British Columbia; Lara Aknin, at Simon Fraser University (also in British Columbia, Canada); and Dan Houser and Luigi Butera from the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science at George Mason University.  Together, we hope to learn more about how to spread interest in effective giving, and how to make giving more enjoyable.

Paul Slovic in Switzerland after attending the Subjective Probability, Utility, and Decision Making Conference of 1973

In the days ahead, you will be seeing requests to participate in research questionnaires through our newsletter and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.  We hope you will participate.  Of course, we also hope to get non-donors and non-pledgers in our sample and you can facilitate that by forwarding the questionnaires onto your friends, colleagues and acquaintances.  We will also be doing more experimenting through our Giving Games that Jon is facilitating.  This is a long-term project, but we would very much appreciate your help in our collective fight against global poverty, and participating in research and encouraging others to do so is one great way to contribute.  Thanks in advance for your participation.

Share this story:

Related stories:


About the author:

Charles Bresler

Co-founder, Board Member

After earning a PhD in Social and Clinical Psychology, Charlie Bresler became director of behavioral medicine for The California School of Professional Psychology, Fresno (CSPP-F), where he was a full-time professor and founder of a teaching clinic for anxiety & stress disorders. In 1993, he was recruited by The Men’s Wearhouse, where he went on to be head of human resources, stores, marketing, and, ultimately, president. He stepped down in 2008 to fulfill his long-standing desire to work directly on social and economic issues, not too long after he read Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save. Catalyzed by the concept, Charlie reached out to Peter and proposed combining Peter’s theory with the formation of a nonprofit to advance Peter’s ideas and to raise money for high-impact, cost-effective organizations. Together, they founded The Life You Can Save, where Charlie took on all organizational operations as executive director until 2024. He was supported in this work and in his financial support for the organization by his wife Diana, a family physician, and executed the role pro bono.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.