Research shows karma beliefs affect volunteering


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Charitable organizations looking for volunteers might find it beneficial to craft their message based on how their potential helpers feel about karma.

    UofL College of Business assistant marketing professor Katina Kulow along with Thomas Kramer of the University of California, Riverside, studied how a person’s belief in karma might influence their willingness to donate time or money to a charity.

    What they found is beliefs about karma had no effect on whether consumers would donate money, but did make a difference in whether they would donate time. The research found that those who strongly believe in karma are more likely to give their time when they think their action will benefit others, not themselves.

    “Karma is the belief that the universe administers rewards or punishments in accordance with actions,” Kulow said. “Those who believe in karma don’t want to engage in a good deed that will result in a perceived self-gain, such as a gift or public recognition. People who believe in karma will respond more favorably to an appeal that emphasizes only a benefit to others.”

    For example, Kulow and Kramer asked participants to imagine that someone they were close to or someone they did not know had been diagnosed with cancer. They were then presented with a charitable appeal that discussed how donations to cancer research can help find a cure. Participants were offered the opportunity to participate in a follow-up study that involved donating their time to answer additional questions that may be used to help advance cancer research. Participants who held strong karmic beliefs were more likely to donate their time when they were thinking of an individual they did not know versus someone they did know.

    The study, “In Pursuit of Good Karma: When Charitable Appeals to Do Right Go Wrong,” is to be published in August in the Journal of Consumer Research. Kulow’s research is based on her dissertation, which was completed under the direction of Kramer, associate marketing professor at UCR’s School of Business Administration.

    For further information, contact Kulow at 330-701-3495 or


    Janet Cappiello covers student success for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She has more than 30 years’ experience in journalism, including working for The Associated Press and magazines such as Vegetarian Times and Sustainability: The Journal of Record. She has been at UofL since 2014.