Past research has shown repeatedly that people prefer donating to a single identified human victim rather than to unidentified or abstract donation targets.
In the current research we show results countering the identifiable victim effect, wherein people prefer to donate to charitable organizations rather than to an identifiable victim.
In a series of five studies, we manipulate temporal and social distance, examine a variety of donation targets, and measure intention to donate time or money as well as actual donations of money.
We show that people are more willing to donate to a charitable organization when they are temporally or socially distant from the population in need. Willingness to donate to a specific person in need is higher when donors are temporally or socially close to the donation target.
Furthermore, we demonstrate that (a) empathy mediates donations to a single victim, yet does not mediate donations to charitable organizations; (b) that donation giving to charitable organizations is unique and is not similar to donations to a group of victims. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.