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Why Do People Volunteer? An Experimental Analysis of Preferences for Time Donations

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  • Alexander L. Brown
  • Jonathan Meer
  • J. Forrest Williams

Abstract

Why do individuals volunteer their time even when recipients receive far less value than the donor's opportunity cost? Previous models of altruism that focus on the overall impact of a gift cannot rationalize this behavior, despite its prevalence. We develop a model that relaxes this assumption, al- lowing for differential warm glow depending on the form of the donation. In a series of laboratory experiments that control for other aspects of volunteering, such as its signaling value, subjects demonstrate behavior consistent with the theoretical assumption that gifts of time produce greater utility than the same transfers in the form of money. Subjects perform an effort task, accruing earnings at potentially different wage rates for themselves or a charity of their choice, with the ability to transfer any of their personal earnings to charity at the end of the experiment. Subjects exhibit strong preferences for donating time even when differential wage rates make it costly to do so. The results provide new insights on the nature of volunteering and gift-giving.

Suggested Citation

  • Alexander L. Brown & Jonathan Meer & J. Forrest Williams, 2013. "Why Do People Volunteer? An Experimental Analysis of Preferences for Time Donations," NBER Working Papers 19066, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19066
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Victoria Prowse & David Gill, 2009. "A Novel Computerized Real Effort Task Based on Sliders," Economics Series Working Papers 435, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    2. Felipe Augusto de Araujo & Erin Carbone & Lynn Conell-Price & Marli W. Dunietz & Ania Jaroszewicz & Rachel Landsman & Diego Lamé & Lise Vesterlund & Stephanie Wang & Alistair J. Wilson, 2015. "The Effect of Incentives on Real Effort: Evidence from the Slider Task," CESifo Working Paper Series 5372, CESifo Group Munich.
    3. Brown, Alexander L. & Meer, Jonathan & Williams, J. Forrest, 2017. "Social distance and quality ratings in charity choice," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 9-15.
    4. Lilley, Andrew & Slonim, Robert, 2014. "The price of warm glow," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 58-74.
    5. Meer, Jonathan, 2017. "Does fundraising create new giving?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 82-93.
    6. David Fielding & Stephen Knowles, 2015. "Can you spare some change for charity? Experimental evidence on verbal cues and loose change effects in a Dictator Game," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 18(4), pages 718-730, December.
    7. Charness, Gary & Cobo-Reyes, Ramón & Sánchez, Ángela, 2016. "The effect of charitable giving on workers’ performance: Experimental evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 131(PA), pages 61-74.
    8. Christine L. Exley & Stephen J. Terry, 2015. "Wage Elasticities in Working and Volunteering: The Role of Reference Points in a Laboratory Study," Harvard Business School Working Papers 16-062, Harvard Business School, revised Jun 2017.
    9. Jeffrey Carpenter & Erick Gong, 2016. "Motivating Agents: How Much Does the Mission Matter?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(1), pages 211-236.
    10. Nelson, Katherine M. & Schlüter, Achim & Vance, Colin, 2017. "Distributional preferences and donation behavior among marine resource users in Wakatobi, Indonesia," Ruhr Economic Papers 690, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    11. Nelson, Katherine M. & Schlüter, Achim & Vance, Colin, 2016. "Funding conservation locally: Insights from behavioral experiments in Indonesia," Ruhr Economic Papers 652, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    12. Alexander L. Davis & Nadja R. Jehli & John H. Miller & Roberto A. Weber, 2011. "Generosity across contexts," ECON - Working Papers 050, Department of Economics - University of Zurich, revised Mar 2015.
    13. Anya Samek, 2015. "Gender Differences in Job Entry Decisions: A University-Wide Field Experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00419, The Field Experiments Website.
    14. Jonathan Morduch & Ariane Szafarz, 2018. "Earning to Give: Occupational Choice for Effective Altruists," Working Papers CEB 18-017, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods

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