SPI Working Paper Series

WP #: 132

Date: Jan 2015


Other Sources


SPI Funded Paper

When Identifying Contributors is Costly: An Experiment on Public Goods

    Anya Samek, Roman M. Sheremeta

    University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Chicago
    Case Western Reserve University, Chapman University

Studies show that identifying contributors increases contributions to public goods. In practice, viewing identifiable information is costly, which may discourage people from accessing it. We design a public goods experiment in which participants can pay to view information about identities and contributions of group members. We compare this to a treatment in which there is no identifiable information, and a treatment in which all contributors are identified. Our main findings are that: (1) contributions in the treatment with costly information are as high as those in the treatment with free information, (2) participants rarely choose to view the information, and (3) being a high contributor is correlated with choosing to view information about others.

SPI Quick Look:
This paper suggests that displaying information about the identities of all contributors, even if this information is costly (i.e., in terms of time and effort needed to discover such information), may be a very effective way to increase contributions to public goods. Findings are relevant for non-profit organizations with a large donor base, suggesting that despite the visibility challenge (the gift of a particular donor may take time and effort for others to view) publicizing contributors is still effective. The results of this experiment also have practical implications for online communities that rely on user-provided content to be successful. While online communities may struggle with how to display contributors when there are thousands of them, our research would suggest that as long as this information is public, it is not necessary for it to be readily accessible.