Can Giving Games change donor behavior? We did an experiment to find out

Can Giving Games change donor behavior? We did an experiment to find out

Preliminary results from an experiment co-conducted by The Life You Can Save suggests that Giving Games have a positive impact on future donor behavior.

To help us better understand how Giving Games can influence donor behavior, The Life You Can Save recently conducted an experiment to test our philanthropy education model in a controlled laboratory environment. In designing and executing this experiment, I partnered with Dan Houser, the chair of the department of economics at George Mason University and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science, and Luigi Butera, a postdoctoral fellow in economics at the University of Chicago.

Giving Game participants have the opportunity to donate a predetermined sum of money to charity. This means that participants get to engage in charitable behavior, but don’t have to dish out their own money in order to do so. We structured our study to examine whether this dynamic promotes pro-social behavior, looking specifically at actions that could influence long-term giving behavior.

Our experiment followed a simple design:

  1. All subjects watched a TED Talk by Bill Gates that discussed both the importance of malaria prevention and the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school system.
  2. Half the subjects were then given $10, which they could then donate to their choice of either Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) or KIPP. The control subjects received the same information about the charities, but were not given any donation money or the opportunity to donate.
  3. All subjects completed a survey that included solicitations to sign up for mailing lists of AMF, KIPP, and GiveWell—a charity evaluator that recommends AMF based on cost-effectiveness.
  4. Per standard protocol, we paid all subjects for their participation in the experiment. Finally, we gave our subjects the option to donate some of their earnings to either AMF or KIPP.

What did this experiment tell us?

Subjects who participated in a Giving Game donated significantly more of their own earnings to charity, and were also significantly more likely to sign up for mailing lists than those in the control group. Having the opportunity to play a Giving Game roughly quadrupled the average donation and average number of mailing list signups per participant. Giving Game participants were twice as likely to sign up for at least one mailing list relative to subjects in the control group. The table below summarizes these results:

A recent experiment co-conducted by The Life You Can Save suggests that subjects who participate in Giving Games were significantly more likely to contribute their own money to charity, relative to those who were not given an opportunity to participate.

We find these results extremely encouraging for our Giving Game program.  The key characteristics of the model appear to cause dramatic increases in measures of pro-social behavior. Our tasks going forward will be to fine-tune the model to make it as effective as possible, and to expand our research to investigate what long-term impact Giving Games might have.

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About the author:

Jon Behar

As COO, Jon helps coordinate The Life You Can Save’s various projects and set the organization’s overall strategic direction. He founded and continues to run our Giving Game project, a global philanthropy education initiative that teaches people skills to give more effectively and makes these lessons tangible by providing workshop participants with real money to donate to the charities of their choice.

Prior to joining The Life You Can Save, Jon spent ten years at a prominent hedge fund, working primarily in the areas of risk management, portfolio optimization, and algorithm development. He has also served on the board of directors for GiveWell, a widely-respected charity evaluator.

Jon now lives on Bainbridge Island, WA with his wife Meghann Riepenhoff (an acclaimed artist) and their dog Oso.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.