Science of Giving: Matching inspires giving


Science of GivingBrittany Shoots-Reinhard has a PhD in social psychology with a specialization in attitudes and persuasion, and judgment and decision making.  She is also Foundation Beyond Belief’s Beyond Belief Network coordinator.

I may know a lot about social influence and persuasion, but I am not immune to the pull of a good technique. Most notably, I am a sucker for matching funds. I give to the Democratic Party, but only when they have one of their 3:1 matching offers. I love the Secular Student Alliance, but somehow never seem to remember to donate. Unless, of course, they are advertising a matching campaign. I gleefully mentally doubled every dollar I raised for Light The Night last year and happily updated my donors about our matched efforts (e.g., “your donation led to $700 being donated to fight cancer!!!!”).

Unsurprisingly, research supports the idea that matching increases donations relative to no matching (e.g., Huck & Rasul, 2011; Karlan & List, 2007; Karlan, List & Shafir, 2011; Konow, 2010), but other research (e.g., Null, 2011) suggests that people are not as influenced by matching as they should be, as evidenced by people preferring to allocate donations equally across charities benefitting the same population even when the impact for that population would be greater if they gave more to the charity with a matching campaign.

There is also research (Huck & Rasul, 2011) that indicates that charities would be better off announcing a large donation rather than attempting to motivate people with a matching offer. They found that matching offers Chicago Light the Night Walkresulted in greater donations than a control group (i.e., matching is better than nothing), but announcing a large lead donation resulted in significantly more donations than either matching offer (i.e., simply announcing someone has donated a large amount is more effective than matching).

Taken together, this research implies that the social consensus information that a wealthy person or corporation is willing to fund an organization is at least as important as the extra value of a matched donation. It might be especially persuasive if someone trustworthy or expert is the large donor. So the fact that Todd Stiefel and his family are willing to put up $250,000 and that Foundation Beyond Belief is partnering with Light The Night probably means a lot to atheists figuring out how to allocate their charitable efforts for the year.

Speaking of which, if you trust our judgment here at FBB, you should join and support a variety of beneficiaries that our staff has screened for efficacy and fiscal responsibility. And if you’re particularly persuaded by matching, did I mention that we’ve got a matching offer going on with our Light The Night program and that you can donate here?

Read more posts in our Science of Giving series:
Why do we care more about one victim than thousands?

To the power of one


Huck, S. and Rasul, I. (2011). “Matched fundraising: Evidence from a natural field experiment.” Journal of Public Economics, 95(5-6), 351-362.
Karlan, D. and List, J. (2007). “Does price matter in charitable giving? Evidence from a large-scale natural field experiment.” The American Economic Review, 95(5), 1774-1793.
Karlan, D., List, J., and Shafir, E. (2011). “Small matches and charitable giving: Evidence from a natural field experiment.” Journal of Public Economics, 95(5-6), 344-350.
Konow, J. (2010). “Mixed feelings: Theories of and evidence on giving.” Journal of Public Economics, 94, 279-287.
Null, C. (2011). “Warm glow, information, and inefficient charitable giving.” Journal of Public Economics, 95(5-6), 455-465. doi:10.1016/j.jpubeco.2010.06.018