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How Do Suggested Donations Affect Charitable Gifts? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Public Broadcasting


  • David Reiley
  • Anya Samek


Direct mail fundraisers commonly provide a set of suggested donation amounts to potential donors, in addition to the option of writing in an amount. Yet little systematic evidence exists about the causal effects of suggested donation amounts on giving behavior. To this end, we conducted a field experiment on a direct mail solicitation to nearly 15,000 members of three public broadcasting stations. We varied (1) the vector of suggested amounts, and (2) whether the suggested amounts were fixed or varied as a proportion of the individual's previous donation. We find that increasing the vector of suggested amounts by about 20 percent statistically significantly reduces the overall probability of giving by about 15 percent. The overall impact on revenue is less clear, but appears to be somewhat negative. Higher suggested amounts also lead to write in amounts representing a greater proportion of donations. We attribute our result to the apparent cognitive cost of writing in a preferred amount that differs from a suggested amount. A second field experiment, in which we alter only one of the suggested amounts, gives evidence consistent with that theory and with the idea that donors prefer to give round numbers, as we see donors significantly more likely to give amounts of $90 or higher when suggested $100 versus $95.

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  • David Reiley & Anya Samek, 2015. "How Do Suggested Donations Affect Charitable Gifts? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Public Broadcasting," Natural Field Experiments 00422, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00422

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chuan, Amanda & Samek, Anya Savikhin, 2014. "“Feel the Warmth” glow: A field experiment on manipulating the act of giving," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 198-211.
    2. Herbert A. Simon, 1955. "A Behavioral Model of Rational Choice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(1), pages 99-118.
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    Cited by:

    1. Maja Adena & Steffen Huck, 2020. "Online Fundraising, Self-Image, and the Long-Term Impact of Ask Avoidance," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 66(2), pages 722-743, February.
    2. Adena, Maja & Huck, Steffen, 2020. "Voluntary "donations" versus reward-oriented "contributions": Two experiments on framing in funding mechanisms," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2016-308r, WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
    3. Adena, Maja & Huck, Steffen, 2016. "Online fundraising, self-deception, and the long-term impact of ask avoidance," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2016-306, WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
    4. Adena, Maja & Huck, Steffen, 2016. "A field experiment on crowdfunding for a club good," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2016-308, WZB Berlin Social Science Center.

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