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The ABCs of Charitable Solicitation

Author

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  • Jonathan Meer

    (Stanford University)

  • Harvey S. Rosen

    (Princeton University)

Abstract

The iron law of fundraising says that people do not donate to a charity unless they are asked. We test the iron law using observational data on alumni giving at an anonymous research university, which we refer to as Anon U. At Anon U, volunteers use lists provided by the Development Office to telephone classmates and solicit them for donations. The names on these lists are always in alphabetical order. The volunteers who do the soliciting often run out of time be-fore they reach the end of their lists, and conditional on reaching the end of their lists, the solicitations are likely to be done with less energy and enthusiasm. These observations suggest a simple strategy for testing whether solicitation matters, viz., examine whether alumni with names toward the end of the alphabet are less likely to give than alumni with names toward the beginning, ceteris paribus. If so, then solicitation matters. Our main finding is that location in the alphabet--and hence, solicitation-- has a strong effect on probability of making a gift, but not on the amount given, conditional on donating. This result is consistent with a theoretical model of charitable behavior developed by Andreoni and Payne [2003], in which solicitation reduces the transaction cost of making a gift. Our finding is also in line with a model in which individuals donate to charities in order to avoid the solicitor's disapproval. In this case, the donation per se is perceived as eliminating the stigma; the amount given, conditional on giving, has no additional impact. We also find that women respond more strongly to solicitation than men. This is consistent with a robust result in the psychology literature, that women find it more difficult than men to refuse requests that they perceive as being legitimate.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Meer & Harvey S. Rosen, 2008. "The ABCs of Charitable Solicitation," Working Papers 1057, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:cepsud:173rosen.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • L31 - Industrial Organization - - Nonprofit Organizations and Public Enterprise - - - Nonprofit Institutions; NGOs; Social Entrepreneurship

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