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SPI Blog (9)

Anya SamekPurdue University held its second annual “Day of Giving” last week, breaking the record for the biggest single-day fundraising campaign in higher education. Purdue raised nearly $14 million dollars from over 9,500 gifts in just 24 hours. That’s nearly $60,000 every hour. I’m proud to call Purdue my alma mater!

How did they do it? Purdue used a number of proven approaches to both increase donations and make giving fun. You can see their results at http://dayofgiving.purdue.edu

Directed Giving Opportunities: When you give on Purdue’s Day of Giving, you can easily direct your gift to any number of different recipients. Your gift can go to a college, the Purdue scholarship fund, student organizations, or athletics. According to a recent research paper by SPI friends Catherine Eckel, David Herberich and Jonathan Meer, allowing higher education donors to direct their gift significantly increases donation amounts. We saw this at play at Purdue this week as well.

Reducing Hassle Costs: The interface to give was straightforward, and donors had the ability to select one or multiple units to send their gift. In a recent paper my colleague David Reiley and I have been working on, reducing hassle costs is key for increasing the number of people who give (there, we reduce hassle costs by offering payroll deduction, but the idea is similar).

Leaderboard: The Leaderboard is also important. Not only could donors direct their gift, but each participating unit at Purdue was ranked on the website in real-time based on total donations and number of donors. Units were ranked based on overall donations and on participation, creating a sense of competition among donors. We know from research in the lab that competition between teams generates increased effort – in this case, the competition starts with the Leaderboard and the increased effort is greater giving.

Matching Gifts: The Leaderboard didn’t just come with a prestige factor – Purdue put money behind each ranking. Units with the highest overall donations split a total of $100,000 in bonus gifts, depending on the share of donations; while units with the highest number of donors split a total of $50,000 in bonus gifts. Moreover, certain units offered additional matches – the Purdue Scholarship Fund was matching donations $1 for $1. SPI research shows that matches both increase overall donations and the number of donors, regardless of the size of the match. Related research by Steffen Huck and Imran Rasul suggests that the power of matches comes from signaling the value of the gift, and that some matches may actually crowd out donations. This is why bonus gifts combined with a Leaderboard might work quite well – since the final level of match is based on number/total number of donations, crowd out should be minimized. Read our summary of matches here.

Social Media: Social media was used before and during the event. Prior to the Day of Giving, Purdue, and each organization who participates contacted their alumni base for maximal exposure through e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For example, I learned about the Day of Giving both from Purdue directly and from the Krannert School of Management, where I received my degrees. Spreading the word is important, but what came next is even more meaningful. After making their gift, donors were encouraged to share the fact that they gave, with a request for others to give, on their Facebook wall or Twitter feed. As SPI friends Ragan Petrie, Marco Castillo and Clarence Wardell will tell you, “Two main reasons why people donate to charity are that they have been asked and asked by someone they care about.” Ragan, Marco and Clarence’s paper provides some interesting data on how to maximize the power of friends asking friends, and you can read about it here.

I’m delighted to see all of these strategies used in combination. And looking forward to what Purdue comes up with for 2016!

Thursday, 02 April 2015 09:10

Science Can Answer Big Questions

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This is a repost of the article published on The Chronicle of Philanthropy on March 29th 2015. You can read the original article here

Fundraisers know that some appeals work and others don't. Sometimes conventional wisdom offers answers about why, but are those the right answers?

Now, using the tools of a comparatively new academic field, we are learning exactly why some of that wisdom is right - and some of it is plain wrong. These studies lead to a better understanding of why people give again and again. The longer-term aim of scholars working on this research is to help charities raise more to accomplish more good in the world.

At the Science of Philanthropy Initiative, which I lead at the University of Chicago, we’re working with nonprofits to take the economic theory out of the university lab and test what works in the real world. Our approach involves an exciting area of study known as behavioral economics. Behavioral economics is not specifically about maximizing returns, although books like Nudge and The Why Axis show what works to increase how much people save for retirement or the number who enroll in health-insurance programs or adopt energy-saving technologies.

Mostly, though, what we look at is how people make choices - and how we can encourage them to make choices that benefit society.

John ListBehavioral economics starts from the premise that behavior is not purely rational or entirely random. All of us operate within constraints while we seek any objective, whether it is picking a restaurant for a family dinner, finding a life partner, or making a gift to charity. There are limits on what we can do, so each individual balances (often unconsciously) personal aspirations within the environment.

Using the tools of behavioral economics, we gather data by combining experiments in the laboratory and work with nonprofits in the real world. . Each piece of research explores what happens when we change a specific fundraising approach. We alter the constraints for a given altruistic act and measure the change in giving. Or we alter the environment slightly to explore how different information changes the way individuals make decisions.

For instance, when we inform donors that someone will match their gift, they like the fact that they give just $100 for a charity to get $200. That is a nice one-time benefit for the donor and a good result for the charity, but it does not change the donor’s long-term motivations to give.

To change the person’s charitable objectives, you probably have to change how people view the charity or its beneficiaries. Many nonprofits use stories or pictures to convey the need and the capacity of an individual donor to make a difference. But just why do stories and pictures work? Are they all equal or are there approaches that help bridge the gap between the donor and the intended beneficiary more effectively?

In one of the projects the Science of Philanthropy Initiative supported, researchers Nichole Argo and Tamar Krishnamurti at Carnegie Mellon University worked with the nonprofit Benevolent to answer some of those questions.

Benevolent works with social-service charities to find people in need, vet the legitimacy of their desire for charitable aid, and then tell their stories using essays and video. Donors can go online to read about each individual and decide whom to support.

Ms. Argo and Ms. Krishnamurti found that contributions arrived more quickly when recipients appeared clearly in images (with good lighting and an uncluttered background) and showed their best appearance (good grooming and smart clothing choices). Donors gave more rapidly to recipients who narrated a story of personal crisis and specified a concrete need that, if fulfilled, would allow them to achieve a short-term goal. All of these aspects - a beneficiary's appearance, the story of that person's progress and specific need - help overcome the psychological distance between the donor and the recipient. An example is a man who sought $600 to buy the tools he needed to do carpentry and with that job he would support his family and help others.

Another way to change how much people give is to help them understand what other people around them are doing.

One of our other studies looks at whether donors seek to "avoid shame" (by giving even small amounts when charities publish a list of all of their supporters) or "gain prestige" (by giving higher amounts when only the top donors are listed).

So far, in the lab, we find that more donors give and charities raise larger sums when they share the entire list. Charities often publish the highest gift amounts, recognizing that for some donors, prestige is associated with making larger gifts. In some settings, publishing all gift amounts might help raise more. We do not know yet what the impact would be for very large donor lists, but we hope we can find a charity willing to let us test that theory.

Our work with charities shows repeatedly that incentives like tax benefits and matching-gift challenges matter to donors. Statements that remind donors that they "get" something for giving, even something intangible like a "warm glow," raise more money when compared with statements that focus only on the social good a charity can achieve with a donor’s money.

The research we do with nonprofits is not the same as a nonprofit organization’s A/B tests, although there are similarities. We set out to explore a very specific question and alter just one or possibly two conditions. This approach allows us to go beyond A/B testing and permits us to answer why A is better than B.

For example, research we supported explored whether a single line — "Warm your heart" or "Make Alaska better" - raised more. Because of the random selection of people getting each card and the careful design with only one line different in the two cards, Michael Price of Georgia State University and the team at Pick. Click. Give in Alaska could see clearly that the "Warm your heart" message lifted giving by raising the response rate and the average donation. We find repeatedly that donors do give more and are more likely to give when they are told they will benefit, even indirectly through their "warm glow" feelings.

Experiments work on a large scale, but before we do them we usually do our work in a more controlled setting.

In one of our projects, Szu-Chi Huang of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Ted Raymond of Allegra Marketing (for the United Way) tested whether when we are surrounded by people who are younger than we are, we feel subjectively older and focus more on others’ welfare than on our own.

They found first in the lab and then in the real world that when people perceived themselves to be older than others around them, they gave more. United Ways and other nonprofits could apply this finding in their print materials, for example, using different text or pictures to highlight younger beneficiaries, volunteers, or even donors.

As we look at the next step in our work to increase how much people give, we realize we must look at impact. That is what major donors say they want, what all of us want along with the "warm glow" of doing the right thing.

We also wonder how we can apply the tools of behavioral economics to improve charitable-program effectiveness. With improved effectiveness, would donors give more? Could programs achieve more impact with the same in contributed funds? Might there be aspects of character development and motivations that can be supported in childhood that will help those children grow into more charitable adults?

These are big questions with a big stake for society. We look forward to bringing scholars and nonprofits together to find answers that are backed up by science, not just received wisdom.

Photo Credit: Jason Smith, University of Chicago

The Power of Partnerships: What I Learned at the Science of Philanthropy Initiative Conference

Left to Right: Orsola Garofalo (University of Copenhagen), Menusch Khadjavi (University of Kiel), Marina Schröder (University of Cologne), Anya Samek (SPI / UW-Madison), Roel van Veldhuizen (WZB Berlin), Boris van Leeuwen (University of Toulouse), Karina Gose (University of Magdeburg) and Kristina Bott (Norwegian School of Economics).


Last week, SPI friend and sub-award winner Uri Gneezy (University of California – San Diego) organized the 2nd annual Conference on Experiments in Policy. I had the opportunity to attend and learn about exciting new research conducted by fellow academics. I presented recent work with my SPI friend and co-author David Reiley (Pandora) on reducing hassle costs in charitable giving (more on that in a later post).

SPI was also pleased to award 7 travel awards to young researchers to attend the conference, including awards to Roel van Veldhuizen (WZB Berlin), Marina Schroder (University of Cologne), Boris van Leeuwen (University of Toulouse), Menusch Khadjavi (University of Kiel), Karina Gose (University of Magdeburg), Orsola Garofalo (University of Copenhagen) and Kristina Bott (Norwegian School of Economics).

The young researchers also presented their papers. Boris van Leeuwen (University of Toulouse) presented a study on how competition for status can affect contributions to public goods. The study was conducted in the laboratory. Participants decided on how much they wanted to contribute to a public good themselves and which contributions of others they wanted to use. The main take-away of Boris’ work is that when status is associated with the use of public good investments, people will compete to be the one who provides the public good.

For practitioners or policy-makers, Boris’ work means that emphasizing status can increase public good contributions. One possible way to do this is by making the number of users more salient, for instance by providing access statistics on online platforms. However, when status rents and/or groups are very large, competition may be costly to the group. In this case, competition can become so intense, that people overinvest in the public good. A good example would be more people than optimal working on a crowd-sourced website like Wikipedia. As far as I see it, a big problem that online communities struggle with is how to increase contributions by members – and so far, I don’t see too much ‘over-competition’ happening in the real world. In summary then, online communities should think about doing more to encourage competition in providing public goods.

Menusch Khadjavi (University of Kiel) presented his study on the adverse effects of transparency in public policy, a collaboration with co-authors Andreas Lange and Andreas Nicklisch from the University of Hamburg, Germany. Menusch’s idea was to conduct a laboratory environment mimicking a real-world setting to understand what kinds of policies deter embezzlement by beurocrats – where the money embezzled comes from voluntary contributions by citizens.

Menusch’ and co-authors’ study points out possible disadvantages of transparency in public policy when bureaucrats cannot be sanctioned (sufficiently). They argue that this may be the case in democratic and especially authoritarian states, e.g. due to inflexible government employment. Having a bad reputation as a bureaucrat may be accepted more easily if embezzlement is profitable and inevitably detected due to transparency, i.e. when hiding embezzlement is not possible.

Menusch concluded that for policy-makers, this means that there is a need to advocate good governance in which both transparency and accountability are introduced side-by-side, as transparency alone is not a sufficient instrument for fighting corruption - in fact, their study finds that transparency alone may undermine good governance.

It was great for SPI to fund these great researchers and participate in the 2nd Annual Conference on Experiments in Policy. If these talks sound intriguing, then be sure to put September 11-12th 2015 on your calendar, and come to the University of Chicago for SPI’s 3rd annual conference to learn more about the work our researchers are doing.

The Power of Partnerships: What I Learned at the Science of Philanthropy Initiative Conference

( Left to Right: Elizabeth Keenan, Jon Behar, John List )

Jon Behar, Director of Philanthropy Education at The Life You Can Save, received the Partnership Challenge Fan Favorite Award for his research on set choice and charitable giving at the second annual Science of Philanthropy Initiative conference last week.


I had the pleasure of representing The Life You Can Save at the Science of Philanthropy Initiative's second annual conference in Chicago last week. SPI is "a research and outreach project that utilizes rigorous quantitative methods and partnerships with the philanthropic community to explore the motivations behind charitable giving."

The conference brought together 200 people who spend their days thinking and learning about what makes donors tick. Researchers shared their findings with their peers, non-profit practitioners, and fundraising professionals in over 40 presentations and panel discussions.

The Life You Can Save was part of this exchange of ideas. We presented our research on "The Impact of Choice Set Size & Heterogeneity on Giving," which we conducted in partnership with Ayelet Gneezy and Elizabeth Keenan of the University of California San Diego's Rady School of Management. In other words, if you ask someone to choose from a list of charities, how does the size of that list and the similarity of the charities on that list impact how donors give to the charity they select? These questions have obvious implications for The Life You Can Save's recommended charity list and our Giving Games program. Our preliminary findings show that donors respond more generously when faced with larger choice sets, but we plan to extend our research to try to identify when "choice overload" may kick in. We're not the only ones interested in this topic. We’re excited to report that our poster presentation was voted winner of the "Fan Favorite" award by conference attendees!

How do potential donors respond when presented with opportunities to give? This is one of the questions The Life You Can Save and University of California-San Diego researchers decided to find out. Initial results indicate that donors give more generously to charity when presented with diverse and robust giving options. See the full presentation from the SPI conference here.

The conference also provided a chance to connect in person with some other researchers we're collaborating with—including Dan Houser (head of the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science at George Mason University), Luigi Butera (a Research Fellow in Economics at the University of Chicago), and Ashley Whillans (a graduate student in Psychology at the University of British Columbia). Dan, Luigi, and I have conducted a laboratory experiment examining how Giving Games affect pro-social behavior and attitudes, and we were able to share ideas on how to move forward toward publishing our very encouraging results.  And Ashley has helped The Life You Can Save investigate several questions about effective giving, and has also shared her own research on our blog. Our work with these researchers has almost entirely been conducted from afar, through countless emails, phone calls, and Skype sessions.  Connecting with these partners, and finding new ones, was a tremendously valuable experience.

Indeed, the theme of this year's conference was "The Power of Partnerships."  And the need for these partnerships was evident throughout the event. Almost every academic who presented emphasized that they were looking for nonprofits to partner with, in order to test and apply their ideas in the real world. Nonprofit practitioners were just as vocal about their desire to identify what things work, and what things don't, so they can implement evidence-based best practices.  As Chuck Longfield, a Blackbaud researcher on charitable giving trends, put it in his keynote speech: "When charities find something that works, [we] need to find a way for all charities to use it."

So it was quite fortuitous that two days after returning from the conference, I found myself on a conference call with representatives from our recommended charities to discuss our marketing plans for the yearend.  Many of the charities were eager to implement ideas I relayed from the conference, as well as suggestions they heard from other charities on the call. The speed with which this happened was incredible- a few days after the world’s leading thinkers on giving behavior convened to share their ideas, some of the most effective charities in the world were discussing how to apply those ideas to improve their own work. This experience was the perfect example of "the power of partnerships."

SPI plans to make the research presentations from the conference available on their website, so stay tuned to learn more. Presentations from last year’s conference are available now on SPI’s YouTube channel.

To learn more, view the poster for The Life You Can Save's presentation "The Impact of Choice Set Size & Heterogeneity on Giving."

Reposted with permission from 'The Life You Can Save' blog.

Tuesday, 03 December 2013 21:35

Giving Tuesday and the Power of the Ask

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“GivingOne of the strongest results from the field and the research is the impact and the power of "the ask". While many, many people give because they are altruistic and generous, we see a great impact of social pressure and social norms on giving behavior. With a greater number of people than ever online, asking friends, and being asked by friends, is becoming easier. Enter Giving Tuesday – a movement to create a national day of giving, using social media as its stage.

Giving Tuesday was a great success last year. According to their website, charitable giving rose by 53% on Giving Tuesday in 2012 relative to the year prior. And I have no doubt that Giving Tuesday will be a success in years to come. The movement harnesses key behavioral principles that economists and psychologists have documented in past years. First, social norms are extremely important. If I see my friends give, then I am more likely to give. Social pressure plays a role too – if my friend asks me to give, I would feel guilty to say no. Second, we know that givers feel a 'warm glow' or satisfaction from the gift itself. What better way to harness that 'warm glow' than through giving a donation on Giving Tuesday?

However, Giving Tuesday raises one big open question: what will be its effect on long-term gifts? As we see it, two things could happen. On one hand, we could argue that donors will shift their giving throughout the year to giving on only one day – thereby negating any positive effect of the holiday. On the other hand, we could predict an increase in the size of the 'charitable pie' – more asks should generate greater revenue. It will take more data to know for sure, but personally, I’m leaning towards an expansion of the pie. We’ve seen in our research the importance that the ask plays, and we’ve seen giving campaigns fail when non-profits do not ask enough. We’ve also seen great impact that social media campaigns have had in other facets of the market – for example, in the elections.

The Science of Philanthropy Initiative has a mission of answering many big questions, though the biggest question of them all may be: what happens when charities compete? We are using field experimentation to learn the answers.

Connect with us to keep up to date with our findings!

Thursday, 19 September 2013 15:58

Respond Now

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Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit one of the SPI Idea Contest Winners: Respond Now.

Respond Now functions as an emergency safety net for families in 22 communities across the South Suburbs of Chicago by providing resources for immediate, short-term assistance in food security, housing and medical resources. As described by associate director, Amy Weber, Respond Now helps to “stabilize and empower” families in crisis. While Respond Now provides families with an array of services, Weber explained that the most important service they provide is hope. However, providing hope does not come cheap. Respond Now relies on various grants, AmeriCorps volunteers and donations from individuals, corporations and other organizations. Like many non-profit organizations, Respond Now faces many fundraising challenges including trial-and-error strategies, the geographical gap between the donors and the communities in need and communicating the struggle and need in the South Suburban communities.

Respond Now was one of the 58 organizations that submitted a research idea to the SPI Idea Contest. After years of playing the game of hit-or-miss with their fundraising efforts, Respond Now submitted the question: “Is it more effective to solicit for specific needs (stocking a food pantry) or general issues (hunger)?” Their question landed them second place in the SPI Idea Contest and a $700 prize.

Respond Now plans to use the prize money to help stabilize a family in crisis. Respond Now hopes to build a relationship with SPI to learn how to fundraise more effectively, build awareness of their mission and to develop a fundraising network. Respond Now’s latest fundraising goal is to raise $20,000 to purchase a new van to distribute food to families.

The SPI Team would like to extend our congratulations to Respond Now for winning second place in the SPI Idea Contest! We look forward to continuing a fruitful relationship with Respond Now. Their inspiring work motivates our researchers to learn how we can assist in raising more funds so their compassionate staff and volunteers can continue to provide hope in their community.

For more information, visit Respond Now’s website: www.respondnow.org

respond now

Two girls enjoy the Reading Room while they wait for their mother to receive one of the many services offered by Respond Now. Children are encouraged to take any book from the Reading Room.

respond now

The Food Pantry houses stable foods for families in need. Families are able to choose which foods they can take home.

Amanda Chuan This past December, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on a field experiment with students from Homewood-Flossmoor High School. In the beginning, I had no idea what to expect with these high school students. I remembered the mandatory economics class I endured during high school: our final exam comprised of questions like “What is a credit card?” and “What is a budget?” I had left high school with the impression that economics was a dry, soulless subject, and I was confident that economics was the last thing in the world that would interest me. It took two years of college for me to realize that my high school education had deceived me about what economics actually was. If these kids were anything like me when I was in high school, getting them excited about economics was going to be a daunting task.


Amanda ChuanThe students I met far exceeded expectations. Thanks to a dedicated economics teacher, they already understood economics at an advanced level. More importantly, they were curious about economics and wanted to learn more. They were eager to participate in a research project, and their enthusiasm turned a stressful work project (we had just four hours to run the entire field experiment) into a fun, engaging activity. The field experiment involved having the students go into the Homewood and Flossmoor neighborhoods, knock on doors, and ask for contributions to a local charity. We prepared the experiment materials, randomized our target households into the control or treatment group, and trained the students on how to solicit for donations. While Anya Samek and I had designed the experiment and formulated the research question, it was the students who made the field experiment a success. Because they were familiar with the neighborhoods, and because they had a personal sense of responsibility for the charity involved, they were able to raise four times the amount we had expected to fundraise.


Four months later, I returned to Homewood-Flossmoor High School to present the outcomes of the experiment. Here again, I was pleasantly surprised by the energy and intelligence of the students. They demonstrated college-level understanding regarding both economics and statistics, and it was clear that they genuinely cared about the results of the experiment. Although these students were only in high school, they had already discovered firsthand the aspects of economics I did not appreciate until my second year of college: its unique approach to studying human behavior, its broad applicability across all areas of decision-making, and the tools it provides to help us make sense of the world. Economics is capable of answering a wide range of questions regarding the market for charity, and it is never too early to start exploring these questions. Working with these students made clear that people of all ages, of all abilities, are able to make significant contributions toward furthering our understanding of philanthropic behavior.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013 16:00

SPI's first Open House Event Held at GSU

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Michael PriceAndrew YoungOn Thursday, March 14th, SPI held an open house at Georgia State University to introduce ourselves to the thought leaders of Atlanta’s philanthropic community. Edie Dobrez, Shannon Price, and I welcomed more than 15 distinguished guests. The aim of the event was to explain SPI’s mission and start building relationships with the local philanthropic community.

We were honored to begin the event with opening remarks by Ambassador Andrew Young who discussed the importance of philanthropy in today’s world. I followed by discussing the importance of injecting science into philanthropy and using experimental methods to uncover the most effective ways for a charity to attract and maintain donors. I provided examples of our basic approach to philanthropy by highlighting important lessons learned through past partnerships with the non-profit community (my presentation). This lead to a lively discussion amongst the attendees about the challenges facing the industry and ways in which SPI could help them raise more money. Edie closed the event by announcing the SPI Idea contest.

We are grateful for the valuable suggestions and insights we received during the Open House. We realize that the ultimate success of SPI hinges on the relationships we are able to build with the philanthropic community. The Open House was a first step in this direction as we were able to begin a dialogue that will shape the types of questions we explore.

One suggestion from the Open House that we are actively pursuing is the formation of an advisory board comprised of practitioners and thought leaders. I look forward to working with the attendees and others in the non-profit community moving forward. Together we will be able to change the charitable marketplace and improve the practice of philanthropy.

Event resources:
    - Slides from my presentation.
    - Slides from my talk: Field Experiments on Charity: Understanding Why People Give.
    - SPI Idea Contest.
    - Resources for practitioners.

Tuesday, 04 December 2012 18:00

My First Foray into the Science of Philanthropy

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Door to Door

When I was at the University of Central Florida, I was presented with a unique opportunity. The Dean approached me to help fundraise for a new Center for Environmental Policy Analysis (CEPA). As a researcher, I had some experience writing grants and thought the task would be a walk in the park. That was the first wrong assumption I made.

With $5,000 of seed money, I set to work. My first dilemma was to determine how to leverage the money while fundraising. After some research, I found that professional fundraisers take the role of seed money seriously; a manual for fundraisers recommends not starting the public phase of a fundraising campaign until  "40 to 50 percent of the goal is pledged" as seed money  (Fundraising School 1999). However, an informal poll I conducted among friends in the nonprofit field suggested percentages ranging from 20 to 80.

Where did these numbers come from, and why did they vary so much? There wasn’t really any answer. I was unable to find evidence of a single quantitative measurement of the role of seed money in successful fundraising. That surprised me. The annual worth of the charitable giving market is $300 billion[1] or roughly two percent of GDP. That’s a relatively large market to rely on “rules of thumb.”

And so, I found myself in a perplexing situation. I knew three facts:

  • I had $5,000 of seed money
  • I needed to raise money for a worthy cause
  • I am a curious guy. (It’s why I got into research in the first place.)

Those three facts meant one thing to me: I needed to take matters into my own hands and conduct an experiment.

The experiment involved soliciting contributions from 3,000 central Florida residents, randomly assigned to six different groups of 500. Each group was asked to fund separate computers and that varying levels of seed money, ranging from 10 to 67 percent, had already been secured for the purchase of the computer.

The results were clear –increasing seed money sharply increases both the participation rate of donors and the average gift size received from participating donors.  Or in other words, more seed money meant more donors, larger donations and more money.

However, what was even more exciting than more money was the ability to apply science to philanthropy. Using science, data-driven research can fuel decisions regarding fundraising strategies.

Since my first foray into philanthropic sciences, I’ve realized we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. Research opportunities are endless and we are using scientific research to change the charitable giving sector. For example, while my first experiment supported the idea that increasing seed money results in a more successful fundraising pitch, other experiments have turned assumptions on their head. One such assumption is the commonly held belief that the higher the matching gift (3:1 or 2:1 matches) means more donations. However, one of our studies has proved that assumption to be incorrect! 1:1 matches are just as effective as 3:1 or 2:1 matches; larger matches do not provide additional incentives for larger or more donations. What does this mean for fundraising? What other incorrect assumptions are we operating under? How can research change the way we think about fundraising? Questions abound and this field just begs to be studied.

The need to apply science to the market of charitable giving is exactly why I am leading the new Science of Philanthropy Initiative (SPI). This transformational initiative will use nonprofit partnerships and science to explore motivations behind giving in order to increase philanthropy. We hope you join us as we go forward and develop the science of philanthropy.


[1] Giving USA 2012 Annual Report on Philanthropy for 2011, GivingUSA from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.