Social pressure seen as curb on giving

Altruism and social pressure both affect door-to-door charitable giving, with social pressure playing a greater role and reducing giving, a new article says.

Written by economists at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Chicago, the article is based on a study that designed a door-to-door fundraiser among 7,668 households near Chicago.

The fundraising drive was for a well-respected local children’s hospital and an out-of-state charity unfamiliar to most people being solicited.

A flyer on the doorknobs of some of the households informed them about the exact time of a solicitation.

Households that received the flyer opened their doors at a lower frequency, indicating they were, on average, trying to avoid solicitors as a result of social pressure, says the article, which was published in The Quarterly Review of Economics.

The flyer reduced the share of households opening the door by 9 percent to 25 percent.

And if it allowed checking a “do-not-disturb” box, the flyer reduced giving by 28 percent to 42 percent, a decrease that was concentrated among donation smaller than $10, while donations above $ 10 grew slightly.

The experiment showed no effect on donations by mail or the Internet, with only one household among the entire 7,668 giving through those other means.

The findings suggest that “social pressure is an important determinant of door-to-door giving,” the article says.

“The lower frequency of households opening the door indicates that households are, on average, trying to avoid solicitors, consistent with social pressure,” the article says.

“The decrease in giving after a flyer with opt-out box supports the role of social pressure,” it says. “When the cost of avoiding the solicitor is lowered (a simple check on a box suffices), giving due to social pressure decreases.”

That interpretation is consistent with the reduction occurring almost exclusively among small donations, which “are more likely due to social pressure than large donations,” the article says.

That social-pressure interpretation also is consistent with the lack of donations using mail or the Internet, it says.

The authors estimate that the “social-pressure cost” of saying “no” to a solicitor is $3.80 for an in-state charity and $1.40 for an out-of-state charity.

And their calculations suggest that their door-to-door fundraising campaigns on average “lower the utility of the potential donors.”

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