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An experimental test of fundraising appeals targeting donor and recipient benefits


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.

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Fig. 1: Treatment postcards.
Fig. 2: Geographic overview of treatment assignment.
Fig. 3: Donation size.
Fig. 4: Propensity to give.

Data availability

The data used in this study are available at

Code availability

We used Stata version 16 for the data analysis. The Stata code is available at


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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.

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J.A.L., J.J.M. and M.K.P. conceived, designed and implemented the study. J.J.M. coordinated with the State of Alaska PFD for data access. A.G.J. analysed the data. J.A.L., J.J.M., M.K.P. and A.G.J. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to James J. Murphy.

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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 (2021).

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