'I’ve been scammed, but that won’t stop me!’ Trust in social media micro-charities

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Corporate Communication
During the past few years a new way of charity has emerged and gained popularity in Finland: do-nating via Facebook micro-charity groups. These groups are founded and managed by private per-sons, they operate only via Facebook and they help (local) people in momentary financial hardship mainly by donating goods. What makes micro-charities an interesting research subject is the seemingly counterintuitive way they manage to gain trust and commitment among the members, making ordinary people donate to complete strangers based only on a Facebook post. This is even more compelling as the importance of trust for the charity sector and donor behavior has been largely recognized and at the same time established organizations are suspected of misconduct. Through 21 semi-structured interviews with group members (donors) from local and national groups my study seeks to gain understanding on how trust is constructed on social media micro-charity and how donors themselves perceive the role of trust. Trust building in the situation is challenging, as the trustors (members) have no prior interaction with the trustees (admins of the groups and the beneficiaries) thus cannot develop trust based on direct experience or first-hand knowledge of the trustee. I apply the model of initial formation of trust by McKnight, Cummings and Chervany (1998) as the framework in my thematic analysis. Trust was not spontaneously mentioned as a reason or motive for joining the group or donating through the group, yet the motives and foundations for trust were largely the same. Main motives for participating were the concreteness of assistance and confidence that donations will be deliv-ered with certainty. Trust was based both on visible cues and reasoning and on intuition about people. The interviewees based their trust strongly on group admins. Admins were considered trustworthy as they were ‘real people’, using their own, genuine profiles. They also had a signifi-cant role as they filtered requests and monitored compliance with the rules. The interviewees from national group based their trust in addition on their personal contacts with the beneficiaries. Trust was thus based on both general faith in humanity and an assessment of trustworthiness of other parties, using the cognitive processes described by McKnight et al. (1998). These trusting beliefs received support from structural assurances and situational normality, such as group policies and communication between helpers. Results show that the risk of dishonesty or misappropriation of donations did not prevent inter-viewees from participating in micro-charity. Most respondents seemed to accept that in micro-charity groups there are also scammers and self-seekers who could fool them. Still, interviewees were confident that the pros outweigh the cons; because the majority of those who ask for help really need and depend on it. Thus, it seems that the most important factor in building trust in these groups was the trusting stance of the interviewees: the conscious decision to trust regard-less of possible violations of trust, as they considered the outcomes of trusting (provision of help) as more important.
Thesis advisor
Moisander, Johanna
initial trust, online trust, donor trust, donor behavior, micro-charity, Facebook, social media
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