How Peer Pressure Guilts People Into Charity

In this image from video posted on Facebook, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, former President George W. Bush participates in the ice bucket challenge with the help of his wife, Laura Bush, in Kennebunkport, Maine.

If you’ve done the ice bucket challenge, it’s probably because another person nominated you to do it. And maybe you did it out of the goodness of your heart, or maybe you did it because you didn’t want to shell out $100 to charity.

There’s no doubt that the viral trend has raised millions of dollars and an immeasurable amount of awareness of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, but it’s also becoming clear that peer-pressure is a growing part of charity –- especially in the age of social media. Facebook friends post links to Kickstarter and CaringBridge pages, urging each other to donate to the latest cause, or give a few bucks to a family impacted by tragedy.

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In general, that’s a good thing.

"It's a call to do something," Eugene Tempel, dean of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, told ABC News. "That's been demonstrated in the past to be effective, in getting people together and getting people organized, responding to a cause."

He cited the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti as an example.

"People posted that they had texted a number to donate, and asked others to do it," he said.

Tempel called the ice bucket challenge an "unbelievable phenomenon." Sure, participants might feel some obligation after a pal nominates them to complete the challenge, but because the requests aren’t face-to-face, living only in the bubble of social media, it's not really a negative form of peer pressure, he said.

"It's all in great fun, so that makes it very different from someone contributing because they feel like they don't have an alternative," Tempel said. "I think a person who doesn’t want to respond can simply not respond."

That doesn’t mean peer pressure isn’t the trigger that leads to some donations or charitable acts.

In many cases, it is, as anyone who has gotten an email from a friend asking for contributions to their marathon fund for charity can understand. And it's hard to say no to someone's request if everyone on Facebook is on the chain. And many have expressed support for a Florida man who deliberately scuttled another Starkbucks "pay it forward" line in St. Petersburg.

A little push is OK, but when severe peer pressure -- begging someone to donate face-to-face, for example -- is involved, it ruins philanthropy, Tempel said.

"If people feel like they're put in a place where they can't decide yes or no freely, they will resent that," he said. "And in the long run, that is not good for philanthropy."

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