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Encourage Generosity by Activating Empathy

Encourage Generosity by Activating Empathy

Generosity is as natural as selfishness. You’ve probably seen toddlers exhibit both in the same minute. On the other hand, generosity is also learned. While some personality traits do seem to tip the scales toward a propensity for generosity, most people must work to develop a generous spirit. (Source)

4 Factors That Influence Generosity

Studies show that generosity (as a basic orientation toward life) increases when it is:

A) Modeled. Seeing generosity in action can draw our attention to the possibility and benefits of having a generous spirit.

B) Taught. While this is the least effective motivator, it is still useful.

C) Practiced. Positive side effects of actually giving can make it self-perpetuating. (This is the principle behind Generosity Rockstar programs)

D) Activated by feelings of empathy, connection and compassion. (Source)

Everyone has been looking for the key to generosity (usually defined in financial terms). If there is such a secret sauce to overcome an absence of teaching, modeling and actually giving – especially as it relates to churches, it would have to be D: Inspiring it by activating natural feelings of empathy and other connecting emotions.

What Jesus Knew About Empathy

It turns out that empathy is a highly studied trait. It is often defined as understanding another person’s experience by imagining yourself in their situation, “which can increase the likelihood of showing compassion and helping others.” (Source)

Empathy is the idea behind the phrase “walking a mile in someone’s shoes.”

Empathy is also behind Jesus’ preferred method of teaching: Storytelling.

Using common objects and situations, he drew word pictures his audience could easily imagine. Why? Because:

  • Most people like stories more than sermons
  • Stories are more interesting or relatable

It’s not hard to see how this dynamic works in your own brain. And why every sermon starts with a picture.

But there’s more to how stories work.

Being at creation, Jesus knew a little about our brains. He knew about the chemicals and hormones that drive our emotions and behaviors, starting with:

1. Cortisol: Attention and Focus

Cortisol is a stress hormone that, at moderate levels, heightens focus and attention. (Source)

French philosopher Simone Weil said that “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” At the very least, getting and holding someone’s attention is a great place to start if we want to encourage generosity.

Jesus’s very presence created excitement. For those who liked what he was doing, this enthusiasm and curiosity would have produced an optimum amount of cortisol that kept them riveted.

But too much cortisol has a diminishing and even dangerous effect. We could guess that those who didn't like what Jesus was doing and saying might have experienced elevated cortisol levels and stress.

2. Oxytocin: “The Love Hormone”

Oxytocin is the neurochemical responsible for empathy and for something called “narrative transportation,” which is the point where we begin to resonate with a character or story. We need the cortisol to get us to that point.

Women’s brains are flooded with oxytocin after giving birth, which drives the desire to bond with their baby. Oxytocin makes people “more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate…and more sensitive to social cues around us. This can motivate us to engage to help others that seem in need of help.”

While we’ve been referring to generosity more broadly than just financially, studies have actually shown the effect of a specific type of storytelling on donating money. That type of story includes a dramatic arc with elements of surprise, distress, crisis and transformation. (Source)

Where can you find more poignant stories today than around the power of the gospel in a hurting world?


Does your giving experience evoke emotion?generic pushpay giving form

Many giving forms resemble a bill pay-like experience.

The first thing your givers see is a big $0.00, where they are supposed to type in their dollar amount. If they want to choose how their gift will be allocated, there may be a drop-down menu with a few fund names to choose from. Most are either uninspiring (General Fund) or they’re a complete mystery.

This may be fine for members who are already regular givers and know all the ministry funds. But what about first time givers? Or inconsistent givers? 

Vision2’s customizable Give Stories use dynamic images to capture attention and let you craft descriptions that spark empathy.

We invite you to visit one of our client’s giving pages to see it for yourself. Then reach out to learn more.




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