Executive Summary

The goal of SPI is to add rigorous economics via innovative use of field experiments to the study of philanthropy, thereby contributing to the evolutions of a science of philanthropy. Our research will deepen understanding of types of preferences that shape giving (preferences that include altruism, reciprocity, inequity aversion, warm-glow giving, cooperation, generosity). This knowledge will be applied to inform practitioners/policymakers interested in philanthropy.

We will use behavioral economics to measure social preferences and investigate how preferences and beliefs influence charitable giving and associated acts of philanthropy. We will incorporate a multi-faceted data generation approach that includes field experiments and surveys, and develop models explaining human behavior and motivation to give. Our main focus will be on giving at the individual household level, especially potentially high-impact donors. Little is known about the economics of charity, and bringing economists together with philanthropic organizations and the individual donor will provide a new disciplinary gaze that builds on existing strengths.

The initiative will have a strong research agenda, spearheading several large-scale, high impact projects, resulting in more than 13 academic papers in peer-reviewed journals and more than six presentations. Specific activities include research collaborations with philanthropic organizations, experiments, surveys and theory development. We will encourage outside researchers to enter this emerging field through a competitive grant program, thereby generating and fostering new ongoing research. Findings will be disseminated through publications, presentations, and workshops.

The research will have enduring impact, fundamentally changing how philanthropic organizations interact with donors. We will develop empirically validated tools that organizations can use to increase giving and improve solicitation efficiency, resulting in more overall giving.

Download the SPI 2012-2015 Research Report

The Science of Philanthropy Initiative is funded by The John Templeton Foundation.