Between Christmas and the end of January, Alex Gordon-Brown and I ran a donation match for AMF. We decided to triple (Gift aid included) and raised almost 14,000 pounds.
Our motivation besides raising money that wouldn’t have been donated otherwise was to find people who haven’t been involved in the EA community so far. We hoped we could try to draw in newcomers and get them to donate, in the hope they’d donate more in the future. For those reasons, for evaluating the impact of our match, we aren’t looking too closely at the money we have raised officially (not even taking into account the obvious concern that some of those donations would have happened anyway).
Unfortunately, most of these benefits are difficult to assess. People who donated seemed to mainly come from EA-affiliated circles with some people being “core EAs” and some people being more losely connected. We also had a few donations by people whom we suspect to be Alex’ coworkers. This flags up a neglected benefit of Earning-to-Give-careers - more access to people who are able to donate large sums too. Those donations were also the highest we got, which highlights this benefit further.
There were a few donations in the thousands, a decent chunk in the hundreds and many below a hundred pounds.
We decided the amount based on how much we thought was achievable, but still high enough so it would bring out higher donations. So far, donation matches were capped at 4-figure sums*, while the largest donation we got was already more than 5,000 dollars. We hoped to anchor people with a high target. This seems to have worked. A smaller goal probably wouldn’t have brought out as many >$1000 donations.
Ben Kuhn mentioned in his post that matching a donation more than 1:1 doesn’t seem to be worth it (this post appeared after we started the match). Since we wouldn’t have gone for a higher amount even if we had done only 1:1 matching, there wasn’t a cost to tripling. [Edit: Ben pointed out in the comments that this result was based on a direct mailing campaign, so it's unclear how well it translates to Social Media fundraising.]
On the cost side in general, we put a couple of hours in, but very few overall. The donation match was shared on Facebook and we had a few private conversations because of it, but again, very few. The money we put up for the donation match would have been donated anyway to AMF.
The other cost was the match not filling up, though the effects of that are unclear. It might demotivate people in the future if there’s a match with a similarly high goal. I think this is offset by the experimental value the match had.
Most donations happened in the first and the last week of the match, that’s also when we tried to draw attention to it the most. We could probably have done the match over a shorter timeframe, so donations would have been more regular. This might have resulted in people being more motivated to donate, compared to when it looks like it’s come to a halt.
Another reason behind the timing was the intention for the match to be Christmas related, since people are more likely to donate during that period. We were a bit late for that unfortunately, so in the future (combined with the reason above), we’d rather do a match only for December. If you have any suggestions how to improve (our) donation matches in the future, we'd be happy to hear them.
Great job guys! Someone recently suggested hosting fundraising campaigns, like this one, but doing them jointly with a non-EA friend in order to attract friends of friends who may not come across this stuff otherwise.
This sounds like a great idea. I'd definitely try it out if I have the opportunity. Thanks!
It's worth noting that this was in the context of direct mail campaigns. It's not clear if the finding translates to fundraisers from a personal network.
Did the people who donated to the fundraiser know this? If not, it seems a bit disingenuous.
"It's worth noting that this was in the context of direct mail campaigns. It's not clear if the finding translates to fundraisers from a personal network."
Thank you for pointing this out, I hadn't checked the details (which I should have done!). Sorry about that. I'll edit the post accordingly.
"Did the people who donated to the fundraiser know this? If not, it seems a bit disingenuous."
I'm in the same camp as Tom Ash here. I had always assumed that at least EA-people knew this would be the case, and non EA-people would guess so - otherwise we might be morally not so great people after all. ("We, the privileged rich, want you to donate money too, otherwise we won't.")
Do you think this is something to worry about because it might put people off?
No worries. I probably should have titled the post "Did Donation Matching Work in Two Direct Mail Campaigns in Minnesota?", but then nobody would have read it.
Hmm. Maybe you're right. At any rate, you're certainly correct that it's not unusually disingenuous.
This is something I'd be interested to see research on--is the average donor aware that the money would have been donated anyway? I suspect the answer to this is "no," at least for some people, since matching campaigns frequently say something like "double your impact" which implies that the money would not be donated otherwise. I also suspect that the people who don't know this would be put off if they found out.
(It's worth noting that some matches do involve the donor influencing the matching funds; for instance, CFAR's December 2013 fundraiser explicitly stated that the last donors had promised to donate elsewhere if the match wasn't filled, and HCEA's December 2013 fundraiser allowed donors to choose between GiveWell top charities and split the matching funds the same way.)
If people knew that most matches weren't actually matching, we'd expect saying "I plan to donate £60k to AMF, please join me!" to have about the same effect as donation matching (unless for some reason people enjoy playing the game where everyone acts like the individual donors are moving double/quadruple the amount they donate). That doesn't seem likely to me, but intuitions are pretty frequently wrong about this kind of thing.
A few random observations:
(A) The final level of the match probably does increase our giving to AMF relative to other places, albeit not by the full amount (my back of the envelope is that each £1 given to the match increased our giving to AMF by £0.5), That's not dissimilar to the structure of the CFAR match.
(B) Most people, even among my heavily selected friends, don't naturally think in terms of counterfactuals where altruism is involved. Seriously. When conversations I had with people did touch on counterfactuals, the assumption was that the money would donated otherwise.
(C) if something is not unusually disingenuous, it's probably not actually misleading people, assuming that said people are not too naive. Think over-the-top THIS PRODUCT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE adverts.
I wasn't aware that other matching campaigns use the "Double your impact" line frequently, that's helpful to know. I think our match wasn't advertised with phrases like that; I consider this to be pretty dubious and wouldn't really feel comfortable with it. (This is why I would be a terrible salesperson.)
But point taken, if they are matches advertised like that, then it's seems like a reasonable assumption that the donation wouldn't have happened otherwise. It'd be good to know how much assumptions like this from other matches influence recipients of ads for other matches which aren't advertised like this.
Hm, I don't think I agree. Isn't it a pretty standard psychology finding that people react very differently to the same facts depending on how they are phrased? (Genuine question.) Though I couldn't quote any offhand.
:) I really appreciate all the work you put into it!
I think that's OK, because that's the way matches often work in the non-EA world, and the important thing is that they motivate greater donations by the matchees. For example, that happens with the people Charity Science fundraises from, who are generally not EAs and so don't think in terms of counterfactuals.
Have you thought about running future matching fundraisers through an organisation that focuses on fundraising, which in the EA global poverty world I guess'd be Charity Science? I imagine they'd be able to put extra time into promoting it, and'd have a comparative advantage in doing this, whereas you'd have a comparative advantage in earning to give.
I considered ideas like this, but I'm not sure how much extra promotion in the broad sense accomplishes, especially from an organisation promoting lots of other similar things (my assumption would be that the circles it promotes to are saturated).
As noted, the vast majority of the upside came in (a) flushing out EA-interested people and (b) a few large donations from people we know. New territory, in other words.
Yes, for all of Charity Science's peer-to-peer fundraisers the promotion done by the people running them (the first peers) is the main source of funds. We'd be happy for you or anyone to use our prettier and easier software in the future of course, and give whatever extra promotion we can to the fundraisers (which might reach some EAs who needed that nudge to donate).