Personality Types and Giving

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Character Development
character traits
Personality traits are tied to the philanthropic sector in various studies. Researchers try to identify which personality trait and variables are associated with more giving behaviors. Studies on personality traits and their impact on wellbeing found that personality predicts life satisfaction and happiness, and different traits may be more conducive to giving and volunteerism.

Authored by Kidist Ibrie Yasin 


Personality is made up of characteristics and behaviors that distinguish an individual from others. Personality types describe groups of people with similar experiences and behaviors. Personality literature also uses the term personality traits, which is defined as "dimensional individual differences in tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts and feelings and actions" (McCrae and Costa, 1990). Although personality types and traits are similar, they can be distinguished by how they are measured: personality traits are measured quantitatively against scales of measurement, while personality types are defined with more qualitative differences. 

For example, one popular model that makes a calculation based on answers to a series of questions is known as the Big Five Personality Traits. The results are communicated through the acronym OCEAN. The letter O stands for "openness to experience" (curious versus cautious); C stands for "conscientiousness" (organized versus careless); E for "extraversion" (outgoing versus reserved); A for "agreeableness" (friendly versus detached); and N for "neuroticism" (nervous versus confident) (McCrae and Costa, 1996).

There are "personality variables" found to be highly related to giving/helping behaviors. These variables include the following: empathy, which is 1) the cognitive capacity to take the perspective of others and 2) the emotional responsiveness to the well-being of others; narcissism, known as exaggerated self-love; sympathy, a feeling of compassion; and humility, a modest view of one's importance (Afolabi, 2013; Bekkers, 2006). Altruism is a personal motivation that is highly associated with personality and it is defined as "doing something good for the sake of the beneficiaries only."

In Collins English Dictionary, the term giving is defined as “affectionate and generous where one's feelings are concerned." In giving-related literature, giving is also termed as generosity, charity, donation, giving of time, volunteering, and philanthropy.


Historic Roots

The theoretical identification of personality types dates back to 1921 when a famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, published in the German language a book called Psychological Types, which was followed by an English translation (Kroeger and Thuesen, 1988). This book was criticized for being too abstract and vague to be understood by ordinary individuals. Later, Isabel Myers and her mother Katharine Briggs developed a theory of combinations of four personality types, based on this Jungian theory, that became the very popular "Myers-Briggs" typology. This version made the theory both readable and understandable for every individual. The Myers-Briggs test is often used in industry and helps people understand their psycological preferences and how they work best. 

The personality variables identified have historical language roots. The word empathy is derived from the ancient Greek word empatheia, meaning "physical affection or passion." The term narcissism comes from the Greek myth about Narcissus, a handsome young man who fell in love with his own image reflected in the still water. He said, ‘‘I burn with love for me!" Based on this myth, narcissism is defined as a personality disorder or trait with a persistent pattern of lavishness in behavior, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Sympathy and compassion have similar meanings but in different languages. Sympathy comes from the Greek word syn that means "suffering," and compassion comes from the Latin word com meaning "to suffer." Finally, humility comes from the Latin, meaning humble or grounded.



Understanding personality can impact our interactions in society. Awareness of these traits can help us determine how happy and positive we are in our lives; the quality of relationships we have with family, in romantic relations, with peers and other interpersonal relations; and the causes of societal problems.

Studies on personality traits and the impact on subjective wellbeing have found that one's personality predicts life satisfaction and happiness (DeNeve and Cooper, 1998). Among the Big Five personality traits, for example, one's level of extraversion and agreeableness are related to a propensity to experience positive emotions and interact with life's challenges in positive ways (Ibid). Having empathy was found to have a significant and positive relationship to successful marriage and parenting, and negative relation with both traditional bullying and cyber-bullying. Narcissism is found to be highly related to bullying and negatively affected relationships. Compassion and perspective-taking are related to forgiveness by decreasing revenge and punishment even after a serious offense.

Personality traits have been found to be predictors of some societal problems, such as traffic fatalities. A study found that people with a personality high in narcissism reported more aggressive driving. They drive more aggressively in a driving simulation, and they tend to speed, tailgate and have higher collision rates than those who scored lower on the narcissism reports (Bushman et al, 2018).


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Personality traits are tied to the philanthropic sector in various studies. Researchers designed study questions to identify which personality traits and variables are associated with more giving behaviors. This relationship between personality traits and giving is important to the sustainability of the philanthropy sector because it may identify what type of person tends to be more giving and why they are generous. The information may help us understand how to motivate and influence people to give in relation to the way their personality is constructed.

Among the Big Five personality traits, researchers identified the following trends. Extraversion is associated with altruism toward family members, friends, and/or strangers (Science of generosity, 2018). Openness is found to be associated with altruism toward strangers. Agreeableness is associated with altruism toward acquaintances or friends. A study explained that agreeableness and extraversion might be the main characteristics that contribute to engagement in various prosocial activities (Carlo et al. 2005). For example, there is evidence that agreeable people are highly altruistic, straightforward, trusting, soft-hearted, modest, and compliant (Ibid). Similarly, extraversion is associated with sociability, assertiveness, positive emotions, warmth, and activity (Ibid).

The trait of agreeableness was found to be positively correlated with actual donations in a "public good" game played in a laboratory experiment, as well as in traditional philanthropy questions such as, "Have you donated any amount over the last year period of time?" Aggregable people are also involved in non-financial donations, such as giving blood (Bekkers, 2006). In studies, agreeableness and extraversion were more strongly related to volunteerism than the other personality traits in the Big Five personality dimensions (Carlo et al., 2005)

There is evidence that empathy and perspective-taking are positively correlated with altruism and trust, but negatively related to egoism (Konrath and Handy, 2017). Similarly, narcissism scores were in general related to lower generosity because of their reduced perspective-taking skills (Bockler et al., 2016). Another study argues that this does not mean narcissists do not give to charity, but they will be more likely to engage in prosocial activities, such as giving and volunteering, that are seen by other people and so have a higher chance of getting attention and praise (Konrath et al, 2016).


Key Related Ideas

Change in people’s personality traits over time: Researchers studied whether personality was set or continued to change into adulthood. A study by Roberts and Mroczek (2008) found evidence for the continuing change in personality traits of individuals across their lifespan. While people show increased selfconfidence, warmth, self-control, and emotional stability with age. and more significant change in young adulthood between 20 and 40, people of all ages were found to change based on experience.

Personality traits of leaders in the work environment: Researchers found that those leaders who are agreeable and conscientiousness have maintained an ethical leadership reputation (Schaubroeck and Walumbwa, 2008). Ethical leadership, in turn, is associated with a reduced employees' transgression because leaders role-model ethical behaviors as well as have skill in communicating with employees about matters of right and wrong (Brown & Trevin˜o, 2006). This topic could help non-profit leaders positively influence their employees.

Brand personality in the nonprofit organizations: Brand personality is "a set of human characters that are attributed to a brand name" (Venable et al, 2005: 298). A brand personality framework helps organizations shape the way people feel about their mission, service, or product. There are 5 main brand personalities: excitement, sincerity, ruggedness, competence, and sophistication; and customers tend to buy a brand if its personality matches their own.  Venable et al (2005) found nonprofit organizations personalize integrity, sophistication, ruggedness, and nurturance. The study recommends stakeholders differentiate between nonprofits based on brand personality.


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Sara Konrath: Associate Professor of Philanthropic Studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI is the director of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research (iPEAR) She created an empathy-enhancing free smartphone game called Random App for Kindness. 
  • Paul Costa, Jr. is an American psychologist associated with the Big Five personality traits. He has written several books and articles and is best known for the Revised NEO Personality Inventory where Robert R. McCrae is also a co-author.
  • Robert R. McCrae is a personality psychologist at the National Institute of Aging. He is associated with the Big Five theory of personality.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Greater good Magazine (https://greatergood.berkeley.eduis a nonprofit site that provides scientific-based information and insights for a meaningful life. There are many insights into the topic of prosociality and types of prosocial behavior on the website.
  • The Altruism personality and prosocial behavior institute ( is an institution owned by Humboldt State University that works on research in altruism and prosocial behavior and how positive prosocial behaviors could be enhanced.
  • Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research (iPEAR) ( is a research lab with a primary focus on motivations, traits, and behaviors relevant to philanthropic giving, volunteering, and other prosocial behaviors. You can get Dr. Sara Konrath’s Publications and press releases from the iPEAR website for free.


Reflection Questions

What do you think describes your personality trait(s) among those identified above?

After reading this piece, did you notice a relationship between your personality trait, your giving behavior, and your relationships with your family and friends? 



  • Bekkers, René. "Traditional and health-related philanthropy: The role of resources and personality." Social psychology quarterly 69, no. 4 (2006): 349-366.
  • Bushman, Brad J., Georges Steffgen, Thomas Kerwin, Tyler Whitlock, and Janet M. Weisenberger. "“Don’t you know I own the road?” The link between narcissism and aggressive driving." Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour 52 (2018): 14-20.
  • Carlo, Gustavo, Morris A. Okun, George P. Knight, and Maria Rosario T. de Guzman. "The interplay of traits and motives on volunteering: Agreeableness, extraversion and prosocial value motivation." Personality and Individual Differences 38, no. 6 (2005): 1293-1305.
  • Konrath, Sara, and Femida Handy. "The Development and Validation of the Motives to Donate Scale." Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 47, no. 2 (2018): 347-375.
  • Konrath, Sara, Meng-Han Ho, and Sasha Zarins. "The strategic helper: Narcissism and prosocial motives and behaviors." Current Psychology 35, no. 2 (2016): 182-194.
  • Kroeger, Otto, and Janet M. Thuesen. Type talk: The 16 personality types that determine how we live, love, and work. Dell, 2013.
  • McCrae, Robert R., and Paul T. Costa Jr. "A five-factor theory of personality." Handbook of personality: Theory and research   2nd Ed.  (1999): 139-153.
  • Science of generosity. Greater good science center 2018.
  • Venable, Beverly T., Gregory M. Rose, Victoria D. Bush, and Faye W. Gilbert. "The role of brand personality in charitable giving: An assessment and validation." Journal of the academy of marketing science 33, no. 3 (2005): 295-312
This briefing paper was authored by a student taking a philanthropic studies course at The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.