Field Experiments on Charitable Giving at a Public University Grant uri icon


  • This project consists of a field experiment on motivations for charitable giving, conducted in conjunction with the annual fund and capital giving campaign at a major public research university. The collaboration between the researchers and the university has the potential to answer important questions in three main motives for giving: prestige, reciprocity, and social norms. The experiments gauge the effect of prestige (acknowledgment) and giving categories on donations; the importance of gifts and reciprocity (gift exchange) as motives for giving; and the role of social influence and norm compliance on giving. The large sample size allows the researchers to compare the effectiveness of various fundraising techniques, alone and in combination.Approximately 300,000 former students are randomly assigned to receive different solicitation letters. These letters vary the offer of recognition from the university in response to donations as well as the levels of suggested donations in order to identify whether bunching at the bottom of categories, which has been documented in the existing literature, is due to reference points or a desire for prestige. Additionally, related treatments offer gifts in exchange for donations, as is common for charitable organizations. The mechanisms by which reciprocal gift-giving by the charity affects donative behavior is identified by varying the size of the gifts, the required donation amounts, and the opportunity to opt out of receiving the gift. Giving by donors is examined both in response to the initial solicitation and over the longer term to study persistence in philanthropy.Charitable giving plays a large role in the United States. The results of this research will provide guidance to practitioners, especially in higher education, on how to raise funds more efficiently, thus increasing both the level of prosocial behavior in general as well as enhancing the ability of organizations to raise funds to promote the provision of higher education. By leveraging an existing campaign, it is possible to accumulate a large new data set that will provide insight into theories of charitable giving that span multiple fields in social science in ways that are not otherwise possible.

date/time interval

  • 2013 - 2017