Publication Date: June 2019
Charities often send annual “thank you letters” to express gratitude to donors, but seek to defray these costs by inviting additional donations or engagement. However, the additional asks may backﬁre if potential donors see the thank you message as “insincere” or “manipulative.” We test this trade-oﬀ by conducting a ﬁeld experiment in cooperation with a leading charity in India. We ﬁnd that an explicit ask for additional donations or even a request to follow the organization on Facebook reduces giving. However, these eﬀects are not only heterogeneous, but asymmetric by past giving behavior. Recent, frequent, and higher monetary value donors react negatively to additional asks by reducing giving, but lapsed, infrequent, and lower monetary value donors react positively by giving more. Our results highlight that ﬁndings based on purely cross-sectional experiments may oﬀer incomplete insight. We estimate that diﬀerentially targeted ask messages based on past donation behavior, data readily available to charities, can increase donations overall by 6-11%.
Keywords: Gratitude, Field experiments, Reactance, Fundraising, Donor relationship management, Nonprofits, altruism
JEL Classification Codes: L31, M31, M37, C93