CFDP 1940

Do Sympathy Biases Induce Charitable Giving? The Effects of Advertising Content


Publication Date: March 2014

Update Date: January 2016

Pages: 52


We randomize advertising content motivated by the psychology literature on sympathy generation and framing effects in mailings to about 185,000 prospective new donors in India. We find significant impact on the number of donors and amounts donated consistent with sympathy biases such as the “identifiable victim,” “in-group” and “reference dependence.” A monthly reframing of the ask amount increases donors and amount donated relative to daily reframing. A second field experiment targeted to past donors, finds that the effect of sympathy bias on giving is smaller in percentage terms but statistically and economically highly significant in terms of the magnitude of additional dollars raised. Methodologically, the paper complements the work of behavioral scholars by adopting an empirical researchers’ lens of measuring relative effect sizes and economic relevance of multiple behavioral theoretical constructs in the sympathy bias and charity domain within one field setting. Beyond the benefit of conceptual replications, the effect sizes provide guidance to managers on which behavioral theories are most managerially and economically relevant when developing advertising content.


Charitable giving, Sympathy biases, Identified victim effect, Non-profit marketing, Advertising, Behavioral economics, Conceptual replications

JEL Classification Codes:  L31, M37, M31, C99