SPI Working Paper Series

WP #: 025

Date: Jan 2015


SPI Funded Paper

Once and Done: Leveraging Behavioural Economics to increase Charitable Giving Contributions

    Amee Kamdar, Steven D. Levitt, John A. List, Brian Mullaney, Chad Syverson

    Smile Train
    University of Chicago
    University of Chicago
    Wonder Works
    University of Chicago

SPI Quick Look:
The paper presents the results of a two-year series of large-scale natural field experiments involving hundreds of thousands of subjects. The main experimental treatment revolves around a “once and done” mail solicitation. In these campaigns, the authors explicitly state to potential donors on the outside of the envelope in the mail solicitation: “Make one gift now and we’ll never ask for another donation again.” Those who make a donation are asked to choose from one of three check boxes: (1) do not mail me in the future asking for donations, (2) send me only a limited number of future mailings, or (3) continue to mail me. Relative to a range of different control messages, the “once and done” solicitation roughly doubles initial donations, with 38 percent of the donors self- selecting into the “do not mail” category. Combining initial and subsequent donations, “once and done” yields nearly a 50 percent improvement over other solicitation methods. The results point to the importance of reciprocity and trust in interactions with donors (e.g. donors may appreciate that charities are entrusting the donor with the decision of being solicited again or not), and of social pressure (e.g. the “once and done” offer provides an avenue for people who have a large disutility from repeated solicitations of opting out of future intrusions).