Results from a survey of people's views on donation matching

by Ben_Kuhn 5y1st Mar 20153 comments

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Since a lot of people lately have been discussing donation matching and the various issues about counterfactuals that surround it, I ran a survey a couple weeks ago to answer various of my questions about donation matching.

You can read the full post here. I'm not going to cross-post the whole thing because it becomes difficult to keep the two versions in sync, but I'll include the "conclusion for matching donors" below to pique your interest. (Note that because it was only a survey of a small convenience sample, you should put limited weight on these conclusions! But I think they're useful nevertheless.)


Be transparent about your matching

Where will any unmatched funds go? Will they be donated to the same organization anyway? Given to a different charity? Burned? A strong majority thought that all matches were fully counterfactually valid, so if this isn’t true of your match, you should say so. This could affect how much people donate, and how deceived they feel, so it’s very important to be totally honest here.

One thing that I didn’t look at in this survey, but that merits future research, is another type of “partial validity” in which unmatched funds don’t go to the same charity, but go to another charity, sometimes a quite similar one. It’s hopefully clear that this always happens for foundations, but it’s not clear for private donors like HEA’s anonymous matcher or one’s friends. It’s probably wise to be transparent about this in your fundraiser as well.

Separately from concerns about honesty, I think transparency in matching is great for other reasons as well. It seems to me that by far the biggest benefits of many EA fundraisers are not just that they raise additional funds—the best part is the flow-through effects from getting people to be more public about their giving, to discuss effective altruism more, and to get their friends interested. From that standpoint, it seems like a huge win to use the matches to introduce people to two central practices of effective altruism, transparency and counterfactual reasoning. It would also make the campaigns stand out more from typical fundraisers.

Consider running a challenge instead of a match

The survey suggested that people found challenge fundraisers just as compelling as matches, and seemed to reduce their donations less when the challenge target was reached than when a match expired. Furthermore, with challenges, the counterfactual effects are much clearer: it’s obvious where your money went, and the funding dynamics are much more intuitive.

This is consistent with my interpretation of the donation matching literature, where I wrote that I expected matches to work mostly through social proof and urgency effects rather than through making people’s donations bigger (and found, consistent with this, that changing the amount of the match tended not to matter). Challenge fundraisers don’t make people’s donations bigger like matches do, but they share the same urgency effect and function as stronger social proof. So it’s not surprising that they work just as well.

Consider running a larger experiment

This survey produced some useful info, but it would be even better to have actual field experiments (and a larger sample size). The academic literature on matches is sparse enough, and the literature on challenges even more so. So any additional experiments could add a lot to our knowledge.


Once again, check out the full post if you're interested in learning more, or have questions that aren't answered above. I hope this is useful to those considering running matching campaigns!