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How Can Bill and Melinda Gates Increase Other People’s Donations to Fund Public Goods?


  • Dean Karlan


  • John A List



A simple theory is developed which formally describes how charities can resolve the information asymmetry problems faced by small donors by working with large donors to generate quality signals. To test the model, two large-scale natural field experiments were conducted. In the first experiment, a charity focusing on poverty reduction solicited donations from prior donors and either announced a matching grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or made no mention of a match. In the second field experiment, the same charity sent direct mail solicitations to individuals who had not previously donated to the charity, and tested whether naming the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as the matching donor was more effective than not identifying the name of the matching donor. The first experiment demonstrates that the matching grant condition generates more and larger donations relative to no match. The second experiment shows that providing a credible quality signal by identifying the matching donor generates even more and larger donations than not naming the matching donor. Importantly, the treatment effects persist long after the matching period, and the quality signal is quite heterogeneous—the Gates’ effect is much larger for prospective donors who had a record of giving to “poverty-oriented†charities. These two pieces of evidence support the model of quality signals as a key mechanism through which matching gifts inspire donors to give. [BREAD Working Paper No. 332]. URL:[].

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  • Dean Karlan & John A List, 2012. "How Can Bill and Melinda Gates Increase Other People’s Donations to Fund Public Goods?," Working Papers id:4880, eSocialSciences.
  • Handle: RePEc:ess:wpaper:id:4880 Note: Institutional Papers

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James Andreoni, 2006. "Leadership Giving in Charitable Fund-Raising," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 8(1), pages 1-22, January.
    2. Karlan, Dean & McConnell, Margaret A., 2014. "Hey look at me: The effect of giving circles on giving," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 402-412.
    3. Andreoni, James, 1989. "Giving with Impure Altruism: Applications to Charity and Ricardian Equivalence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1447-1458, December.
    4. Andreoni, James, 1990. "Impure Altruism and Donations to Public Goods: A Theory of Warm-Glow Giving?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(401), pages 464-477, June.
    5. Eckel, Catherine C. & Grossman, Philip J., 2003. "Rebate versus matching: does how we subsidize charitable contributions matter?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(3-4), pages 681-701, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:joepsy:v:61:y:2017:i:c:p:124-133 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Lenka Fiala & Charles N. Noussair, 2017. "Charitable Giving, Emotions, And The Default Effect," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 55(4), pages 1792-1812, October.


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