Tools for Motivating Effective Charitable Giving

We are building a database of useful tools, and a summary of the evidence and use cases. Hover over different categories to see their description or see all tool categories here. Click on a tool title to view it's wiki page, with a fuller discussion.

Tool name Category Description Findings summarized key_papers
Tangibility Timing/conditionality, income source For people to donate from less tangible sources of income and forms of wealth. E.g., ask them to donate online with digital currency rather than with cash. Some evidence people are more wiling to give from less tangible income (Reinstein & R, '11)a
Donations tied to purchases Incentives/gifts Companies may sell products and services and promise to make a donation for every item purchased. Similarly, sellers at auctions (e.g. on eBay) may commit to donating a share of the final price. In the long run, it only makes sense for charities and fundraisers will only want to encourage and support this if these products tend to be valued more (and sell for more money) than products/auctions not tied to donations. “leads to higher sale probabilities and prices [across a broad sample] … [thus] makes charity ties an efficient way for sellers to make donations.” Most effective for sellers with the least previous feedback, suggesting a charitable donation signals quality. (Elfenbein ea, '12)
Negative/positive framing Info/communications Promotions can depict the negative situation of people that charity serves to help, or it can focus on the positive situation (and improvement) of those who are helped. Communications could convey negative states and feelings of sadness, or they could try to convey a happier mood. Very limited and mixed evidence; little or no field/incentivised work. Some find negative images/messages reduce intention to donate, others find the opposite, or find this is mediated by congruency of image/message, and temporal framing (Chang & L, '09)
Recognition tiers Social Recognize donors who make contributions above a certain amount as belonging to particular tiers (e.g., “founders”, “pioneers”, “benefactors”, etc.) and publicize this. Mention of recognition tiers increases incidence, amount, particularly for larger (prior) givers. Harbaugh finds donations clustered at recognition tiers, Karlan less so. (Harbaugh, '98), (Karlan & M, '14)
Give donor control Control Give the donor some control over the use of her funds (and let her see the results). E.g., allow her to earmark funds for particular areas, to donate to specific families/villages/institutions, for particular tangible objects (a well, a bednet, a set of schoolbooks). (Choosing where to target funds, feedback on this) (Null, '11), (Smeets ea, '15)
Whom to target Targeting Market-profiling, demographic and psychographic research can be used to determine who is most likely to respond to an appeal for your charity. +Couples, women>men, +address woman of the house, +income, +age, +religion (Wiepking ea, '11)
Give more tomorrow Timing/conditionality, income source Ask people (now) to (increase) their donation at a later date, rather than increase it immediately. For example, ask a regular donor to begin giving 10% more starting in the following year. People increase their regular giving more if asked to start doing so in 2 months time, rather than immediately or in 1 month's time. (Breman, '11)
Joint evaluation of a metric Info/communications Suppose a fundraiser or web site or aggregator is trying to get donors to consider a particular measure (e.g., lives saved per $10,000). Users/donors may find this easier to consider if they can compare it to other charities or situations (e.g., the US government, when considering domestic policies, values a year of life at $70,000) Preference for complicated characteristics increases when moving from separate to joint evaluation; identifiable victim vs large group, effectiveness vs. overhead (Kogut & R, '05)a
Unit asking Info/communications Asking on the basis of a single “unit” and then scaling up. E.g., ask “how much would you give to help a single woman get a fistula surgery”? Next ask, “we are targeting the village of Smallville, where 30 women are likely to need the surgery in the next year.” How much will you be willing to give to help all 30 of these women? “asking donors to indicate a hypothetical amount
for helping one of the needy persons before asking donors to decide how much to donate for all of the needy persons.”
(Hsee ea, '13)
Frame recipient's "loss" Info/communications A fundraiser can focus on/frame charity beneficiaries who have suffered a loss relative to how they were in the past, or how they could have been in the absence of some negative factor or event. In a large-scale experiment, framing the charitable recipient (an Indian widow) as having suffered a *loss* relative to her previous standard of living raised 1/3 more than the control condition. (Sudhir ea, '16)
Reduce transaction costs Incentives/gifts There may be costs (money, time, effort, attention and cognition, emotional strain) associated with making donations. fundraisers can try to reduce these by making the process easier, more efficient, and less cognitively demanding. Greater transactions costs (esp. administrative time) reduces the likelihood of responding to a donation request. (Knowles & S, '15), (Huck & R, '10)
Influence others Social (Tell) donors that their donations will be reported to other potential future donors. This may motivate them to get more in order to set an example and positively influence later donors. Mixed, but still underpowered evidence (of desire for lead contributors to give more to influence others) (Reinstein & R, '11)b, (Karlan & M, '14)
Give if you win Timing/conditionality, income source Ask for *conditional* commitments from uncertain unrealized income. E.g., ask “if you get a raise next year, would you donate 10% of your salary increase?” This can be a nonbinding pledge you're reminded of, or a more formal commitment. (See giveifyouwin.org.) People facing uncertain gains donate more if asked to donate in advance, conditionally on positive outcome. Also, people who have just failed to win a bonus are particularly unlikely to donate (relative to winners or relative to those with no possibility of a gain). (Kellner ea, '17)
Pre-cover overhead costs Incentives/gifts A third party (large donor, organization, etc) may agree that they will pay all of the “overhead costs” for a charity or project. Later potential donors can then be told that the full amount of their gift will go towards “program activities”. (However, defining “overhead” is tricky.) Using a lead donor funds to “cover overhead” increases donation incidence and amounts; more effective than match or seed. (Gneezy ea, '14)
Charities collaborate/compete? Incentives/gifts When people get appeals for one charity, and respond by donating, this may make them less likely to donate to other charities. If charities are thus in competition, but they share similar ultimate goals, they may do better in net by limiting and coordinating their fundraising activities. Mixed evidence on whether a charitable ask or incentive for one charity reduces donations to other charities. Estimates range from zero to complete crowding-out. For similar charities?, esp for larger givers;? for those offered matches; for repeated asks. Specific appeals/tools have been found to increase *overall* giving (and not be completely crowded out). In other studies a complete 'time-shifting' effect cannot be ruled out, but these are often underpowered. (Donkers ea, '17), (Diepen ea, '09), (Scharf ea, '17), (Reinstein, '11), (Meer, '17), (Filiz-Ozbay & U, '18), (Cairns & S, '11)
Asker-donor connection Info/communications Fundraisers could choose solicitors who have a particular connection with potential donors (e.g., from same university or geographic area), and emphasize this connection. “When a college roommate calls to ask for a donation to the alma mater, both the likelihood and amount of giving rise significantly.” (Meer, '11)
Solicitor characteristics Choice architecture, size/nature of ask Consider what type of person should ask for donations (on the phone or in person) and what connection should they have to the potential donor? Female attractiveness; donor-solicitor connection; announcing that solicitors are paid (Gneezy ea, '17), (Landry ea, '05), (Meer, '11), (Landry ea, '08)
Personal ask Choice architecture, size/nature of ask Make a direct, specific, and personalised ask for a donation. Donation requests increase the propensity to give (Yoruk). There is a conventional wisdom that “most donations occur in response to an ask”. Some evidence that personal targeting helps. (Meer, '11), (Yörük, '09)
Avoid uncertainties/excuses Info/communications Reducing the sense of uncertainty about the charity's merits and effectiveness; avoiding discussion of this. Trying to prevent donor “ excuses not to give”. Uncertainties may be exploited to provide self-serving justifications ot to give (Exley) or mental/physical (Exley, '16), (Exley, '15)
(All-pay) Auctions Incentives/gifts Unusual auctions for particular goods/services in which participants continue to contribute some amount in every round, until all but one person drops out. The last person to drop out wins the thing being auctioned. Standard charity auctions don't clearly raise much more than the value of the goods. All-pay auctions work well in theory and in the lab, but other methods (“VCMs”, lotteries) work better in the field (Onderstal et al). papers, (Carpenter ea, '07), (Onderstal ea, '13)
Gift for donors Incentives/gifts Provide and announce gifts for donors, e.g., a tote bag, mug, or gift certificate; these may depend on the amount donated. Actually *decreases* donation (incidence/amounts) in at least one study. (Landry ea, '08), (Chao, '17)
Effectiveness info: deliberation Info/communications Present some analytical information about the efficiency or effectiveness of a charity; get potential donors to consider this carefully Getting people to consider donation effectiveness has little/weak impact on giving. Karlan and Wood (2017): adding scientific impact info (including some quantitative information; and removing emotional stimulus in part) had a small/insignificant net effect: increased gifts from large prior donors, reduced gifts from small prior donors. Other work (Small et al, '07, study 3) finds that information decreases giving (to an identified victim)… by decreasing emotional response: (study 4): priming analytic thinking (vs feeling-based) reduced giving to identifiable victims. (Karlan & W, '17)
Quality ratings Info/communications Fundraisers can cooperate with agencies that rate and rank charities along various dimensions (such as GiveWell, The Life You Can Save, and Charity Navigator). They might consider publicizing their own ratings. Positive impact on donations to smaller charities, not larger charities (Yoruk); previous papers, perhaps with less 'clean identification' find a more general positive effect (Yörük, '15), (Vesterlund, '03), (Landry ea, '08)
Refund donations if target not reached Incentives/gifts In some cases a fundraiser is for a specific project that can only be accomplished if a minimum amount is raised; or it could be framed in such a way. In these cases, you could consider promising to *refund* all donations if the target is not reached. (See, e.g., Kickstarter in a non-charity context). Promising refunds lead to increased donations in at least one experiment. (List & L, '02)
Offer a matching donation Incentives/gifts A large donor (or other organization, or group of individuals, etc.) may offer to “match” donations. E.g., a “1-for-1 match” for every $1 donated, they may agree to donate another dollar. These matches can be at different rates (50%, 200%, etc), and they may have limits (e.g., up to a total of $200,000). There is some evidence that the presence of a match does increase out-of-pocket donations (Karlan and List); however, it works in an unpredictable way and may act simply as a signal. It may even be counterproductive (Huck and Rasul, '11), better to be simply a 'lead gift'. However, we have evidence from only a few selected field experiments, not from a broad range of settings. Meier ('07) finds the positive (participation?) effect may be crowded-out in the longer run when the match is removed. (Karlan & L, '07), (Huck & R, '11), (Meier, '06)
Lotteries/raffles Incentives/gifts You can sell lottery tickets where the prize is a good or service. This will only be worth doing if the amount of ticket sales (net of administrative costs) can be expected to exceed the value of the product, or if it is easier to get companies/people to donate these products than to donate a comparable amount of money Lottery/raffle prize often raises more money than a standard ask, but the difference may not cover the cost of the prize. (Landry ea, '05), (Onderstal ea, '13)
Contingent match Incentives/gifts Large donors (for example) might agree to match all donations made if a particular threshold is reached, or if there is a particular response rate (share of people who donate). One paper finds that a match contingent on a 75% participation rate was more effective than a standard match and also more effective than no match. (Anik ea, '14)
Info on recipients' deservingness Info/communications A fundraiser could give donors information about a particular charity beneficiary (e.g., a homeless person). Donors might use this to determine whether a recipient is deserving of help. “Dictators [charitable giving] who acquire information mostly use it to withhold resources from less-preferred types, leading to a drastic decline in aggregate transfers”; however, there are selection effects. The exogenous provision of information seems to increase donations overall. (Fong & O, '11)
Individual/identifiable victim Info/communications Presenting a single person who will benefit from the charitable donation; rather than presenting a larger group, a vague on identifiable beneficiary, or presenting statistics Portray an individual (child) raises more than conveying the total number affected. It also raises more than portraying multiple individuals. (Small & L, '03), (Kogut & R, '11), (Small ea, '07)a
Unconditional gift Incentives/gifts Charities or fundraisers may offer a gift to potential donors that they can keep whether or not they donate. For example, a charity for African development projects may include a small beaded necklace crafted in the villages they are supporting along with each solicitation mailing. Giving a small gift to potential donors increases giving. (Falk, '07)
Pledging/precommitment Choice architecture, size/nature of ask Ask for a pledge or promised commitment to donate (a particular amount, or in general) before making the *actual* ask requiring the actual commitment of money. (Fosgaard & A, '18)
Deadlines Timing/conditionality, income source Give people a deadline, e.g., “please donate before 31 December” (of the current year). (They might also provide a need-based reason for this deadline.) “Deadlines have no effect on the propensity to give.
A longer deadline increases the amount given, conditional on giving”. (result cut?)
(Damgaard & G, '17)
Ask for *small* donation Choice architecture, size/nature of ask Saying things like “even a penny helps” makes small contributions feel legitimate. Even a penny helps' (lpd/'low bar') increases contribution incidence (appears strongly replicated) but sometimes reduces conditional contribution ('scale-back'); net effect varies. Mediated by anchors and expectations. (Fraser & H, '89), (Cialdini & S, '76), (Andrews ea, '08)
Info: make recipient feel "close" Info/communications A fundraiser could give information about the potential beneficiaries; this might be used to make them seem socially close, and to trigger empathy or the feeling of obligation or community. (Sudhir ea, '16)
"Matching" (vs rebates) Incentives/gifts The same money could be used to either “match” donations or give donors a “rebate”. According to economic theory, these are equivalent, (but there is evidence that people respond to these differently). “Matching subsidies result in larger total contributions to the charity” (and more than rebates). (But see entry on “Matching/Price”!) (Eckel & G, '03), (Eckel & G, '08)a
Make people happy Info/communications Fundraisers could use communication material that may make the potential donors feel happy. Happier people may donate more. See also “Donor's mood (When to target)”
Teach "Identifiable victims bias" Info/communications A fundraiser can explain that people do tend to donate more to a single “identifiable victim” than to “statistical victims” or large groups. One might imagine that this “de-biasing” would make them more responsive to statistical information about effectiveness and the magnitude of a problem. Small et al. (2007): teaching people about the 'identifiable victim bias' reduced donations towards identifiable victims, but did not increase giving to statistical victims (significant interaction). Kogut & R, '05b: When given *choices* between identified individual and identified group, people often choose the latter. (Small ea, '07)a, (Small ea, '07)b
Seed donations Incentives/gifts An external source (large donor, foundation, or government) may make a large initial donation towards the project, and this can be announced to later potential donors. (More) seed money increases donations (propensity, amounts) in some studies. Increased 'proximity to a goal' seems to increase donations. (Huck & R, '11), (List & L, '02)
Reveal previous donations Social Tell potential donors about previous individual or average contributions; perhaps report selectively to make these seem particularly large. Donors may respond by giving more when they hear of larger previous donations. Revealing larger previous donations (in a range) increases giving; larger targets can be ineffective (Meer, '11), (Shang & C, '09), (Alpizar ea, '08), (Frey & M, '04), (Martin & R, '08), (Smith ea, '14)
Visibility/publicity Social Publicize (larger) donations and the donors, make these visible to other donors automatically or by default (allowing opt-out); make this natural and encourage this. Varied evidence that people 'sometimes' donate more when donations are visible (esp males) or when told of recognition possibility; larger amounts (Alpizar ea) (Harbaugh, '98), (Soetevent, '05)
"Impact" (per $) info Info/communications A charity, fundraiser or site could present information on how effective/impactful it is, in terms of the amount of “final outcome” it achieves per dollar donated, or equivalently, the cost per unit of this outcome achieved. E.g., the Against Malaria Foundation could report GiveWell's asessment that for every $3280 donated, one life is saved, on average. Loosely speaking, according to the Effective Altruism movement, this should be the donor's critical concern in choosing a charity. Karlan and Wood (2017): adding scientific impact info (including some quantitative information; and removing emotional stimulus in part) had a small/insignificant net effect: increased gifts from large prior donors, reduced gifts from small prior donors. (Karlan & W, '17), (Small ea, '07)b

In the full relational database we consider roughly 50 such tools. These tools are linked to relevant papers (evidence), theories, and use cases, collected in separate tables, as well as links to raw data, where available. We are building metrics to evaluate these tools and help practitioners find the one likely to work for them.

You can suggest a new tool or comment on an existing tool by filling out the form HERE. We will credit your contribution.

Our evidence metrics and meta-analysis will prioritize

  • The magnitude of the estimated effects (relative to the underlying variation) as well as the statistical significance of these
  • Evidence from relevant “real-world” contexts, involving real choices, effective charities, medium and large donations, and demographically-relevant participants
  • Peer-reviewed publications and other academic and professional feedback
  • Replication of the results across contexts, and by other independent authors
  • Robust statistical analysis, considering issues such as multiple-hypothesis testing corrections and “p-hacking” (some good discussions of these issues at data colada)
  • Credible and robust study designs, considering issues such as “experimenter demand”, “house money”, statistical identification, and heterogeneity
  • Preregistered studies and analysis plans, as well as transparency, openness, clarity, and willingness to share data and design details

We will provide a clear description of our process, explaining how we reached our conclusions and the assumptions underlying our results (givewell offers an example). We will provide an interface for users to consider alternative criteria and assumptions, and derive their own results from these. Users will be able to down-weight or ignore studies not meeting their criteria (e.g., hypothetical decisions, non-donation outcomes, environments vulnerable to demand effects, less relevant populations), and we will give guidelines for this.

Opening further discussion: Combining and weighing information from different domains, with different approaches, etc.

Notes moved HERE

For non-specialists

Charity Science: Trials and synthesis of research for Effective Altruism Outreach/ (2015)

  • Focuses on platforms and practical techniques (e.g., “Peer to peer fundraising”, “Legacy fundraising,” “Niche marketing” (24 in total) that seem particular relevant for expanding the reach of EA, carefully weighing scientific and practical evidence. 100 total pages of reports “intended to be understandable to someone with no previous knowledge in the area … written by many different staff and volunteers. …all based on the same questions and evaluation rubric.
  • Relation to this wiki: CS focuses on practical platforms and techniques that combine or allow many of the tools discussed above. We are working on integrating their findings into the above

Ideas42- Behavior and Charitable Giving

Science of Philanthropy Initiative 'Practical Takeaways'

Behavioural Insights Team (2013), “Applying Behavioural Insights to Charitable Giving.”

Academic literature surveys


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david, 2018/04/18 22:04

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