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Giving and Probability

Christian Kellner, David Reinstein (), Gerhard Riener and Michael Sanders

Economics Discussion Papers from University of Essex, Department of Economics

Abstract: When and how should a fundraiser ask for a donation from an individual facing an uncertain bonus income? A standard model of expected utility over outcomes predicts that the individual’s before choice – her ex-ante commitment conditional on her income – will be the same as her choice after the income has been revealed. Deciding “if you win, how much will you donate?” involves a commitment (i) over a donation for a state of the world that may not be realized and (ii) over uncertain income. Models involving reference-dependent utility, tangibility, and self-signaling predict more giving before, while theories of affect predict more giving after. In our online field experiment at a UK university, as well as in our laboratory experiments in Germany, charitable giving was significantly larger in the Before treatment than in the After treatment for male subjects, with a significant gender differential. Lab treatments isolated distinct mechanisms: for men, donations were higher in all treatments where the donation’s collection was uncertain, whether or not the income was known. This supports a (self)-signaling explanation: commitments realized with a lower probability must involve larger amounts to have the same signaling power. Our results are directly relevant to fundraising and volunteer-recruitment strategies,and offer further evidence that we need to exercise caution in applying expected-utility theory in the presence of social preferences.

Date: 2015
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-exp and nep-upt
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