Review: What works to promote charitable donations?

by Peterslattery1 min read24th Aug 20205 comments


EA PsychologyResearch Summary

The Rapid Effective Action Development Initiative (READI) recently completed a rapid overview of reviews exploring 'What works to promote charitable donations?'.

A detailed academic report on the project is being revised for submission to a journal (see the preprint here). This short summary document describes this key findings and recommendations from the project and provide resources for interested practitioners and researchers.

Key messages

  • We identified and synthesized the results of 14 relevant reviews (see Appendix 1).
    • Together, these reviews summarise 985 primary studies and donations from 1,510,996 people
  • 35 relevant effects were identified (See Appendix 2).
    • Interventions supported by review level evidence, include:
      • Promoting the charitable donation as tax deductible
      • Framing even small contributions as helpful for achieving charitable aims (while people donate less due to anchoring, more people donate)
      • Highlighting the impact of the donation to a needy beneficiary
    • Interventions undermined by review level evidence, include:
      • Asking for a large amount or commitment, then reducing the ask (“door-in-the-face”)
      • Using artificial cues (“watching eyes”) to make people feel like they are being watched (3 reviews assessed this effect)
      • Minimising disclosure of government funding for fear of “crowding out” donors’ motivations to give
    • Interventions that reduced charitable donations, include:
      • Emphasising the large number of people in need (“compassion fade”)
      • The relative wealth of the donor in a contrived experiment
    • A wide range of contexts were examined (See Appendix 3), but some of the most relevant and important remain widely overlooked, including field trials (especially randomised controlled trials), and the promotion of ‘effective philanthropy’.

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