SPI Working Paper Series

WP #: 100

Date: Dec 2014


Other Sources



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Why Do People Volunteer? An Experimental Analysis of Preferences for Time Donations

    Alex L. Brown, Jonathan Meer, J. Forrest Williams


We conduct a laboratory experiment to test if there are differences in behavior when subjects can donate either time or money to charity. Our subjects perform an effort task to earn money. In one condition they can have their efforts accrue to a charity instead of themselves. In other conditions subjects may only earn money for their private account but then donate it to a charity. We vary the timing and availability of donation opportunities in the monetary donation settings to test the impact of subtle solicitation pressure. We find that subjects with a more opportunities to donate will donate more often and in larger amounts. Further, subjects giving effort to charity give far more than subjects who give monetary donations – between two and five times as much, on average. We posit that this difference is driven by different warm glow from the two donation types.

SPI Quick Look:
The paper explores whether individuals behave more generously when working directly for a charity (e.g. volunteering) rather than working for themselves and donating part of their earnings. Results show that people donate more often and at greater levels when working for charity than when donating earnings they have already accrued, suggesting that people derive more enjoyment from donating their time rather than their money. Also, the paper shows that people are more generous whenever they are given more opportunities to be such.