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

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

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19066.

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Date of creation: May 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19066
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  12. Liu, Wendy & Aaker, Jennifer L., 2008. "The Happiness of Giving: The Time-Ask Effect," Research Papers 1998, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  13. Bauer, Thomas K. & Bredtmann, Julia & Schmidt, Christoph M., 2012. "Time vs. Money – The Supply of Voluntary Labor and Charitable Donations across Europe," Ruhr Economic Papers 349, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (RWI), Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
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  15. Tore Ellingsen & Magnus Johannesson, 2008. "Pride and Prejudice: The Human Side of Incentive Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 990-1008, June.
  16. Naomi E. Feldman, 2010. "Time Is Money: Choosing between Charitable Activities," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 103-30, February.
  17. Linardi, Sera & McConnell, Margaret A., 2011. "No excuses for good behavior: Volunteering and the social environment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(5), pages 445-454.
  18. Craig E. Landry & Andreas Lange & John A. List & Michael K. Price & Nicholas G. Rupp, 2006. "Toward an Understanding of the Economics of Charity: Evidence from a Field Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 747-782.
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  21. Null, C., 2011. "Warm glow, information, and inefficient charitable giving," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(5-6), pages 455-465, June.
  22. David Reinstein & Gerhard Riener, 2012. "Decomposing desert and tangibility effects in a charitable giving experiment," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 229-240, March.
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