We partnered with Alaska’s Pick.Click.Give. programme to implement a statewide natural field experiment with 540,000 Alaskans designed to examine two of the main motivations for charitable giving: concerns for the benefits to self (impure altruism or ‘warm glow’) or concerns for the benefits to others (pure altruism). Our empirical results highlight the relative importance of appeals to self: individuals who received such an appeal were 6.6% more likely to give and gave 23% more than counterparts in the control group. Yet, a message that instead appealed to recipient benefits (motivated by altruism) had no statistically significant effect on average donations relative to the control group. We also find evidence of long-run effects of warm-glow appeals in the subsequent year. Our results have import for theoreticians and empiricists interested in modelling charitable giving as well as practitioners and policymakers.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 per month
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 digital issues and online access to articles
$119.00 per year
only $9.92 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Get just this article for as long as you need it
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
The data used in this study are available at https://osf.io/ycafq/.
We used Stata version 16 for the data analysis. The Stata code is available at https://osf.io/ycafq/.
Chen, Y. & MacKie-Mason, J. K. Online fund-raising mechanisms: a field experiment. BE J. Econ. Anal. Policy 5, 4 (2006).
Eckel, C. C. & Grossman, P. J. Subsidizing charitable giving with rebates or matching: Further laboratory evidence. South Econ. J. 72, 794–807 (2006).
Karlan, D. & List, J. A. Does price matter in charitable giving? Evidence from a large-scale natural field experiment. Am. Econ. Rev. 97, 1774–1793 (2007).
Meier, S. Do subsidies increase charitable giving in the long run? Matching donations in a field experiment. J. Eur. Econ. Assoc. 5, 1203–1222 (2007).
Huck, S. & Rasul, I. Matched fundraising: evidence from a natural field experiment. J. Public Econ. 95, 351–362 (2011).
Scharf, K. & Smith, S. The price elasticity of charitable giving: does the form of tax relief matter? Int. Tax. Public Financ. 22, 330–352 (2015).
Morgan, J. Financing public goods by means of lotteries. Rev. Econ. Stud. 67, 761–784 (2000).
Goeree, J. K., Maasland, E., Onderstal, S. & Turner, J. L. How (not) to raise money. J. Polit. Econ. 113, 897–918 (2005).
Landry, C. E., Lange, A., List, J. A., Price, M. K. & Rupp, N. G. Toward an understanding of the economics of charity: evidence from a field experiment. Q. J. Econ. 121, 747–782 (2006).
Carpenter, J., Holmes, J. & Matthews, P. H. Charity auctions: a field experiment. Econ. J. 118, 92–113 (2008).
Elfenbein, D. W. & McManus, B. A greater price for a greater good? Evidence that consumers pay more for charity-linked products. Am. Econ. J. Econ. Policy 2, 28–60 (2010).
Frey, B. S. & Meier, S. Social comparisons and pro-social behavior: testing ‘conditional cooperation’ in a field experiment. Am. Econ. Rev. 94, 1717–1722 (2004).
Shang, J. & Croson, R. A field experiment in charitable contribution: the impact of social information on the voluntary provision of public goods. Econ. J. 119, 1422–1439 (2009).
Murphy, J. J., Batmunkh, N., Nilsson, B. & Ray, S. The impact of social information on the voluntary provision of public goods: a replication study. Res. Exp. Econ. 18, 41–50 (2015).
Falk, A. Gift exchange in the field. Econometrica 75, 1501–1511 (2007).
Alpizar, F., Carlsson, F. & Johansson-Stenman, O. Anonymity, reciprocity, and conformity: evidence from voluntary contributions to a national park in Costa Rica. J. Public Econ. 92, 1047–1060 (2008).
Chao, M. Demotivating incentives and motivation crowding out in charitable giving. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 7301–7306 (2017).
Meer, J. Brother Can you spare a dime? Peer pressure in charitable solicitation. J. Public Econ. 95, 926–941 (2011).
Castillo, M., Petrie, R. & Wardell, C. Fundraising through online social networks: a field experiment on peer-to-peer solicitation. J. Public Econ. 114, 29–35 (2014).
Smith, S., Windmeijer, F. & Wright, E. Peer effects in charitable giving: evidence from the (running) field. Econ. J. 125, 1053–1071 (2015).
Andreoni, J. Toward a theory of charitable fund-raising. J. Polit. Econ. 106, 1186–1213 (1998).
List, J. A. & Lucking-Reiley, D. The effects of seed money and refunds on charitable giving: experimental evidence from a university capital campaign. J. Polit. Econ. 110, 215–233 (2002).
Vesterlund, L. The informational value of sequential fundraising. J. Public Econ. 87, 627–657 (2003).
Potters, J., Sefton, M. & Vesterlund, L. Leading-by-example and signaling in voluntary contribution games: an experimental study. Econ. Theory 33, 169–182 (2007).
Bracha, A., Menietti, M. & Vesterlund, L. Seeds to succeed? Sequential giving to public projects. J. Public Econ. 95, 416–427 (2011).
Andreoni, J. Warm-glow versus cold-prickle: the effects of positive and negative framing on cooperation in experiments. Q. J. Econ. 110, 1–21 (1995).
Crumpler, H. & Grossman, P. J. An experimental test of warm glow giving. J. Public Econ. 92, 1011–1021 (2008).
Null, C. Warm glow, information, and inefficient charitable giving. J. Public Econ. 95, 455–465 (2011).
Tonin, M. & Vlassopoulos, M. Disentangling the sources of pro-socially motivated effort: a field experiment. J. Public Econ. 94, 1086–1092 (2010).
Imas, A. Working for the ‘warm glow’: on the benefits and limits of prosocial incentives. J. Public Econ. 114, 14–18 (2014).
Tonin, M. & Vlassopoulos, M. An experimental investigation of intrinsic motivations for giving. Theory Decis. 76, 47–67 (2014).
Ottoni-Wilhelm, M., Vesterlund, L. & Xie, H. Why do people give? Testing pure and impure altruism. Am. Econ. Rev. 107, 3617–3633 (2017).
Singh, J., Teng, N. & Netessine, S. Philanthropic campaigns and customer behavior: field experiments on an online taxi booking platform. Manag. Sci. 65, 913–932 (2019).
Brunel, F. F. & Nelson, M. R. Explaining gendered responses to ‘help-self’ and ‘help-others’ charity ad appeals: the mediating role of world-views. J. Advert. 29, 15–28 (2000).
White, K. & Peloza, J. Self-benefit versus other-benefit marketing appeals: their effectiveness in generating charitable support. J. Mark. 73, 109–124 (2009).
Feiler, D. C., Tost, L. P. & Grant, A. M. Mixed reasons, missed givings: the costs of blending egoistic and altruistic reasons in donation requests. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 48, 1322–1328 (2012).
Baek, T. H., Yoon, S., Kim, S. & Kim, Y. Social exclusion influences on the effectiveness of altruistic versus egoistic appeals in charitable advertising. Mark. Lett. 30, 75–90 (2019).
Andreoni, J. Giving with impure altruism: applications to charity and Ricardian equivalence. J. Polit. Econ. 97, 1447–1458 (1989).
Andreoni, J. Impure altruism and donations to public goods: a theory of warm-glow giving. Econ. J. 100, 464 (1990).
DellaVigna, S., List, J. A. & Malmendier, U. Testing for altruism and social pressure in charitable giving. Q. J. Econ. 127, 1–56 (2012).
Knutsson, M., Martinsson, P. & Wollbrant, C. Do people avoid opportunities to donate? A natural field experiment on recycling and charitable giving. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 93, 71–77 (2013).
Trachtman, H. et al. Fair weather avoidance: unpacking the costs and benefits of ‘avoiding the ask’. J. Econ. Sci. Assoc. 1, 8–14 (2015).
Andreoni, J., Rao, J. M. & Trachtman, H. Avoiding the ask: a field experiment on altruism, empathy, and charitable giving. J. Polit. Econ. 125, 625–653 (2017).
Benjamin, D. J., Choi, J. J. & Strickland, A. J. Social identity and preferences. Am. Econ. Rev. 100, 1913–1928 (2010).
Kessler, J. B. & Milkman, K. L. Identity in charitable giving. Manag. Sci. 64, 845–859 (2018).
Landry, C. E., Lange, A., List, J. A., Price, M. K. & Rupp, N. G. Is a donor in hand better than two in the bush? Evidence from a natural field experiment. Am. Econ. Rev. 100, 958–983 (2010).
Gneezy, U. & List, J. A. Putting behavioral economics to work: testing for gift exchange in labor markets using field experiments. Econometrica 74, 1365–1384 (2006).
Ferraro, P. J. & Price, M. K. Using nonpecuniary strategies to influence behavior: evidence from a large-scale field experiment. Rev. Econ. Stat. 95, 64–73 (2013).
Allcott, H. & Rogers, T. The short-run and long-run effects of behavioral interventions: experimental evidence from energy conservation. Am. Econ. Rev. 104, 3003–3037 (2014).
Chen, Y., Harper, F. M., Konstan, J. & Li, S. X. Social comparisons and contributions to online communities: a field experiment on MovieLens. Am. Econ. Rev. 100, 1358–1398 (2010).
Chen, Y., Lu, F. & Zhang, J. Social comparisons, status and driving behavior. J. Public Econ. 155, 11–20 (2017).
Gallus, J. Fostering public good contributions with symbolic awards: a large-scale natural field experiment at Wikipedia. Manag. Sci. 63, 3999–4015 (2017).
Hahn, R., Metcalfe, R. D., Novgorodsky, D. & Price, M. K. The behavioralist as policy designer: the need to test multiple treatments to meet multiple targets. National Bureau for Economic Research https://www.nber.org/papers/w22886 (2016).
Holladay, S., LaRiviere, J., Novgorodsky, D. & Price, M. Prices versus nudges: what matters for search versus purchase of energy investments? J. Public Econ. 172, 151–173 (2019).
Allcott, H. & Greenstone, M. Measuring the welfare effects of residential energy efficiency programs. NBER Working Paper 23386 https://www.nber.org/papers/w23386 (National Bureau for Economic Research, 2017).
Beshears, J., Choi, J. J., Laibson, D., Madrian, B. C. & Milkman, K. L. The effect of providing peer information on retirement savings decisions. J. Financ. 70, 1161–1201 (2015).
Seira, E., Elizondo, A. & Laguna-Müggenburg, E. Are information disclosures effective? Evidence from the credit card market. Am. Econ. J. Econ. Policy 9, 277–307 (2017).
Fellner, G., Sausgruber, R. & Traxler, C. Testing enforcement strategies in the field: threat, moral appeal and social information. J. Eur. Econ. Assoc. 11, 634–660 (2013).
Hallsworth, M., List, J. A., Metcalfe, R. D. & Vlaev, I. The behavioralist as tax collector: using natural field experiments to enhance tax compliance. J. Public Econ. 148, 14–31 (2017).
Allcott, H. Social norms and energy conservation. J. Public Econ. 95, 1082–1095 (2011).
Costa, D. L. & Kahn, M. E. Energy conservation ‘nudges’ and environmentalist ideology: evidence from a randomized residential electricity field experiment. J. Eur. Econ. Assoc. 11, 680–702 (2013).
Asensio, O. I. & Delmas, M. A. Nonprice incentives and energy conservation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, E510–E515 (2015).
Brent, D. A., Cook, J. H. & Olsen, S. Social comparisons, household water use, and participation in utility conservation programs: evidence from three randomized trials. J. Assoc. Environ. Resour. Econ. 2, 597–627 (2015).
Ito, K., Ida, T. & Tanaka, M. Moral suasion and economic incentives: field experimental evidence from energy demand. Am. Econ. J. Econ. Policy 10, 240–267 (2018).
Brandon, A., List, J. A., Metcalfe, R. D., Price, M. K. & Rundhammer, F. Testing for crowd out in social nudges: evidence from a natural field experiment in the market for electricity. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 116, 5293–5298 (2019).
Fisher, R. J., Vandenbosch, M. & Antia, K. D. An empathy-helping perspective on consumers’ responses to fund-raising appeals. J. Consum. Res. 35, 519–531 (2008).
Hsieh, C.-T. Do consumers react to anticipated income changes? Evidence from the Alaska Permanent Fund. Am. Econ. Rev. 93, 397–405 (2003).
Kueng, L. Explaining consumption excess sensitivity with near-rationality: evidence from large predetermined payments. NBER Working Paper 21772 https://www.nber.org/papers/w21772 (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2015).
Evans, W. N. & Moore, T. J. The short-term mortality consequences of income receipt. J. Public Econ. 95, 1410–1424 (2011).
Jones, D. & Marinescu, I. The labor market impacts of universal and permanent cash transfers: evidence from the Alaska Permanent Fund. NBER Working Paper 24312 https://www.nber.org/papers/w24312 (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2018).
Watson, B., Guettabi, M. & Reimer, M. Universal cash and crime. Rev. Econ. Stat. 102, 678–689 (2020).
Kingma, B. R. An accurate measurement of the crowd-out effect, income effect, and price effect for charitable contributions. J. Polit. Econ. 97, 1197–1207 (1989).
Andreoni, J. An experimental test of the public-goods crowding-out hypothesis. Am. Econ. Rev. 83, 1317–1327 (1993).
Payne, A. A. Does the government crowd-out private donations? New evidence from a sample of non-profit firms. J. Public Econ. 69, 323–345 (1998).
Andreoni, J. & Payne, A. A. Do government grants to private charities crowd out giving or fund-raising? Am. Econ. Rev. 93, 792–812 (2003).
Andreoni, J. & Payne, A. A. Is crowding out due entirely to fundraising? Evidence from a panel of charities. J. Public Econ. 95, 334–343 (2011).
Eckel, C. C., Grossman, P. J. & Johnston, R. M. An experimental test of the crowding out hypothesis. J. Public Econ. 89, 1543–1560 (2005).
Andreoni, J., Payne, A. & Smith, S. Do grants to charities crowd out other income? Evidence from the UK. J. Public Econ. 114, 75–86 (2014).
Goldstein, N. J., Cialdini, R. B. & Griskevicius, V. A room with a viewpoint: using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. J. Consum. Res. 35, 472–482 (2008).
Nolan, J. M., Schultz, P. W., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J. & Griskevicius, V. Normative social influence is underdetected. Personal. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 34, 913–923 (2008).
Pruckner, G. J. & Sausgruber, R. Honesty on the streets: a field study on newspaper purchasing. J. Eur. Econ. Assoc. 11, 661–679 (2013).
Harbaugh, W. T. What do donations buy? A model of philanthropy based on prestige and warm glow. J. Public Econ. 67, 269–284 (1998).
Andreoni, J. & Petrie, R. Public goods experiments without confidentiality: a glimpse into fund-raising. J. Public Econ. 88, 1605–1623 (2004).
Ariely, D., Bracha, A. & Meier, S. Doing good or doing well? Image motivation and monetary incentives in behaving prosocially. Am. Econ. Rev. 99, 544–555 (2009).
Lacetera, N. & Macis, M. Social image concerns and prosocial behavior: field evidence from a nonlinear incentive scheme. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 76, 225–237 (2010).
Karlan, D. & McConnell, M. A. Hey look at me: the effect of giving circles on giving. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 106, 402–412 (2014).
Morgan, J. & Sefton, M. Funding public goods with lotteries: experimental evidence. Rev. Econ. Stud. 67, 785–810 (2000).
Landry, C. E., Lange, A., List, J. A., Price, M. K. & Rupp, N. G. Using donor gifts to drive fundraising: theory and evidence from a natural field experiment. Working Paper https://cla.auburn.edu/economics/assets/File/UsingGiftstoDriveFundraising.pdf (Univ. Georgia, 2012).
Sieg, H. & Zhang, J. The importance of managerial capacity in fundraising: evidence from land conservation charities. Int. J. Ind. Organ. 30, 724–734 (2012).
Eckel, C. C., Herberich, D. H. & Meer, J. A field experiment on directed giving at a public university. J. Behav. Exp. Econ. 66, 66–71 (2017).
Gabaix, X. & Laibson, D. Shrouded attributes, consumer myopia, and information suppression in competitive markets. Q. J. Econ. 121, 505–540 (2006).
Gabaix, X. A sparsity-based model of bounded rationality. Q. J. Econ. 129, 1661–1710 (2014).
Levitt, S. D. & List, J. A. What do laboratory experiments measuring social preferences reveal about the real world. J. Econ. Perspect. 21, 153–174 (2007).
List, J. A. Young Selfish and male: field evidence of social preferences. Econ. J. 114, 121–149 (2004).
DellaVigna, S., List, J. A., Malmendier, U. & Rao, G. The importance of being marginal: gender differences in generosity. Am. Econ. Rev. 103, 586–590 (2013).
Bernedo, M., Ferraro, P. J. & Price, M. The persistent impacts of norm-based messaging and their implications for water conservation. J. Consum. Policy 37, 437–452 (2014).
Meer, J. The habit of giving. Econ. Inq. 51, 2002–2017 (2013).
Deck, C. & Murphy, J. J. Donors change both their level and pattern of giving in response to contests among charities. Eur. Econ. Rev. 112, 91–106 (2019).
Filiz-Ozbay, E. & Uler, N. Demand for giving to multiple charities: an experimental study. J. Eur. Econ. Assoc. 17, 725–753 (2019).
Lee, S. & Feeley, T. H. The identifiable victim effect: a meta-analytic review. Soc. Influ. 11, 199–215 (2016).
List, J. A. Non est disputandum de generalizability? A glimpse into the external validity trial. NBER Working Paper 27535 https://www.nber.org/papers/w27535 (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2020).
Harrison, G. W. & List, J. A. Field experiments. J. Econ. Lit. 42, 1009–1055 (2004).
Henrich, J., Heine, S. J. & Norenzayan, A. Most people are not WEIRD. Nature 466, 29 (2010).
The authors thank J. Andreoni and D. Wood along with seminar participants at Boston University, Chapman University and the University of California San Diego, the 2014 Science of Philanthropy Initiative meetings and the 2015 meetings of the Allied Social Sciences Association for comments that greatly influenced this manuscript. The authors thank J. Holz and F. Rundhammer for excellent research assistance, and in particular H. Beatty at Pick.Click.Give.; N. Kemppel, J. Lavoie and K. St. John at the Alaska Community Foundation; I. Dutton and D. Kaplan at the Rasmuson Foundation for their enthusiasm and support for this project; and the Alaska PFD for providing the data. Financial support for this project was provided to J.J.M. by the Rasmuson Foundation and to J.A.L. and M.K.P. by the John Templeton Foundation (award # 38909) through the Science of Philanthropy Initiative. M.K.P. acknowledges the National Science Foundation for financial support under grant award #1658743 ‘Using Field Experiments and Naturally Occurring Data to Understand How State Policies Impact Charitable Giving’. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Peer review information Nature Human Behaviour thanks Ann-Kathrin Koessler, Jonathan Meer and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Tables 1–17 and Supplementary Fig. 1.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
List, J.A., Murphy, J.J., Price, M.K. et al. An experimental test of fundraising appeals targeting donor and recipient benefits. Nat Hum Behav 5, 1339–1348 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01095-8