An Experimental Approach to Comparing Similarity- and Guilt-Based Charitable Appeals
Jordan van Rijn,
Bradford Barham and
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Jordan van Rijn: University of Wisconsin
Bradford Barham: University of Wisconsin
Reka Sundaram-Stukel: University of Wisconsin
Staff Paper Series from University of Wisconsin, Agricultural and Applied Economics
Non-profit organizations face the challenge of eliciting pro-social behavior (e.g.: donations) amidst an increasingly competitive landscape. One traditional approach involves "guilt appeals", where the organization attempts to create negative emotions through story-telling, defining an explicit need, and emphasizing differences between potential donors and aid recipients. Recently, some non-profit organizations have used the opposite strategy and designed charitable appeals that focus on positive emotions and similarities between donors and recipients. This study uses a dictator game experiment with undergraduate students to test how a positive charitable appeal video that highlights similarities between donors and recipients affects donor behavior relative to a traditional guilt appeal video that highlights differences. We find that both feelings of guilt and similarity are positively associated with donation behavior; however, only the guilt-appeal treatment has a statistically significant positive effect on donations relative to the control. Yet, we cannot reject the null hypothesis of equal donations between similarity- and guilt-based treatments. We also find major gender differences in pro-social behavior: average male donations in the control were 40% higher than female donations; whereas, this outcome is almost completely reversed in the guilt appeal treatment, where females donated over twice as much as males. In other words, guilt appeals appear to work on women but have the opposite effect on men. This difference may be partially explained by males' aversion to feelings of manipulation, a feeling that seemed to discourage their donations but had no impact on female donations.
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