No cause is an island: How People are Influenced by Values Regardless of the Cause

December 2014
Common Cause Foundation Report

Love for our fellow humans and other living beings isn’t a finite resource that depletes with use, and for which different groups must compete. It grows stronger as its focus is broadened. The research presented in this report helps to highlight how strength lies in building on shared values to establish solidarity across diverse causes. In this way we become more than the sum of our parts.

this if...

  • You’re a campaigner or communicator working for an NGO or charity.
  • You’re interested in how diverse organisations can work in solidarity to bring about change
  • You’re a funder, considering news ways to support social and environmental movements.

Key Takeaways

  1. The values that are communicated to someone in the course of drawing attention to a particular social or environmental cause are important in shaping that person’s intention to support. Messages that appeal to intrinsic values – that is, values such as social justice, equality, freedom to choose or unity with nature – perform better in strengthening support than messages which appeal to extrinsic values – such as wealth, power or social status.
  2. Invoking intrinsic values was more effective at generating support even when a person was more likely to prioritise extrinsic values themselves. In other words, it seems that messages which invoke intrinsic values are the most effective, regardless of how important a person holds these values to be.
  3. Values reflected in a message about the work of one organisation and cause have a significant influence on an audience’s intention to help an organisation working on a very different cause.
  4. In communicating about a specific area of work, a charity has the opportunity to influence public intention to support other social and environmental causes – even causes that appear to be very different from their own.
  5. These findings bring into question the current way we structure civil society, whereby different organisations have different cause-specific focuses, and instead suggest that in order to build the necessary levels of public demand for action on social and environmental change we need to begin to express an understanding of the interdependencies in our campaigns and communications.

Toolkit resources

Why fundraise?

Is there a way to fundraise without being in direct competition with other charities?

Do you feel like a fraud?

Are your communications engaging people as citizens or consumers?

Free gifts and supporter journeys

Exploring some of the challenges posed by the pressures of short-term fundraising

Reasons to volunteer

Reflecting on intrinsic motivations to volunteer

Value surveys and maps

More information on the two values surveys that Common Cause draws on in its work

Material tested in our experiments

Further information on the texts used in the study with WWF and Scope

Summary of published research

A summary of results from research into priming values

Other resources
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Communicating bigger-than-self problems to extrinsically-orientated audiences

Weathercocks and signposts: the environment movement at a crossroads

Simple and Painless: the limitations of spillover in environmental campaigning

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