Giving quietly or ostentatiously?: The case of the Teddy Bear Toss

This is a guest post from my new colleague, Dr Eddy Hogg

Research published by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) last week showed that Britain is the sixth most generous country in the world, in terms of people’s propensity to help strangers, donate money and to volunteer their time.  Our giving is comparable with other Western democracies – the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and the Netherlands all join the UK in the top 10 most generous nations.  And we are generous – in the last few weeks we have seen Children in Need raise a record £31m on-the-night total, while the DEC appeal for the Philippines has already raised £69m. 

A video I saw this week highlighted, though, how different the character of our giving is to other generous nations.  If you haven’t already seen it, the goal celebration after the first goal of Canadian ice hockey’s 19th annual Teddy Bear Ross Game between Calgary Hitmen and Medicine Hat Tigers will take your breath away.  Words can’t describe it, so have a watch:

You’d have to have a better imagination than me to picture Anfield being covered in teddies after Daniel Sturridge opens the scoring for Liverpool or the Lords outfield being turned multi-coloured with toys as Alastair Cook scores the first century of the English summer.  In England, we’re more likely to put money into a collection bucket outside the ground, an understated act of generosity that, unlike the Teddy Bear Toss, may go unnoticed even to those you are with.

Can Britain learn from ostentatious displays of giving?  The Calgary match saw over 25,000 teddies donated by a crowd of around 6,000.  That’s about as mass participation as you can get.  Would more overt displays of giving make more people give, as they see their peers doing so in vast numbers?   Or would it make the giving of gifts less voluntary, taking away a defining characteristic of donating to charity?  In our research, we’ve found that nearly all major donors give some of their gifts anonymously and are also happy to be have their named attached to other gifts. The decision to go public or not depends on what’s appropriate in a given situation, rather than from an overriding desire to be covert or overt.  Events like Children in Need encourage groups of people to come together in schools, workplaces and other communities to give together while having a fun.  These aren’t all that different to the Teddy Bear Toss, maybe a little more understated but coming from the same tradition of shared giving.  Perhaps all donors, wherever they are in the world, then, make decisions about when to give publicly with others and when to give quietly on their own.

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