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Giving and Probability

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  • Kellner, Christian
  • Reinstein, David
  • Riener, Gerhard
  • Sanders, Michael

Abstract

When and how should a fundraiser ask for a donation from an individual facing an uncertain bonus income? A standard model of expected utility over outcomes predicts that the individual’s before choice – her ex-ante commitment conditional on her income – will be the same as her choice after the income has been revealed. Deciding “if you win, how much will you donate?” involves a commitment (i) over a donation for a state of the world that may not be realized and (ii) over uncertain income. Models involving reference-dependent utility, tangibility, and self-signaling predict more giving before, while theories of affect predict more giving after. In our online field experiment at a UK university, as well as in our laboratory experiments in Germany, charitable giving was significantly larger in the Before treatment than in the After treatment for male subjects, with a significant gender differential. Lab treatments isolated distinct mechanisms: for men, donations were higher in all treatments where the donation’s collection was uncertain, whether or not the income was known. This supports a (self)-signaling explanation: commitments realized with a lower probability must involve larger amounts to have the same signaling power. Our results are directly relevant to fundraising and volunteer-recruitment strategies,and offer further evidence that we need to exercise caution in applying expected-utility theory in the presence of social preferences.

Suggested Citation

  • Kellner, Christian & Reinstein, David & Riener, Gerhard & Sanders, Michael, 2015. "Giving and Probability," Economics Discussion Papers 13794, University of Essex, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:esx:essedp:13794
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    1. Sutan, Angela & Grolleau, Gilles & Mateu, Guillermo & Vranceanu, Radu, 2018. "“Facta non verba”: An experiment on pledging and giving," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 1-15.

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