Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
XX(X) 1 –50
© 2010 SAGE Publications
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XXX10.1177/0899764010380927Bekkers and WiepkingNonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
© 2010 SAGE Publications
Reprints and permission: http://www.
1VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands
René Bekkers, Center for Philanthropic Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, VU University Amsterdam,
De Boelelaan 1081, 1081 HV Amsterdam, Netherlands
A Literature Review
of Empirical Studies
of Philanthropy: Eight
Mechanisms That Drive
René Bekkers1 and Pamala Wiepking1
The authors present an overview of the academic literature on charitable giving
based on a literature review of more than 500 articles. They structure their review
around the central question of why people donate money to charitable organizations.
We identify eight mechanisms as the most important forces that drive charitable
giving: (a) awareness of need; (b) solicitation; (c) costs and benefits; (d) altruism;
(e) reputation; (f) psychological benefits; (g) values; (h) efficacy. These mechanisms can
provide a basic theoretical framework for future research explaining charitable giving.
Philanthropy, literature review, mechanisms, charitable giving, altruism, research
An overwhelming body of knowledge is available on philanthropy in the social sciences.
Research on philanthropy appears in journals from very different disciplines, including
marketing, economics, social psychology, biological psychology, neurology and brain
sciences, sociology, political science, anthropology, biology, and evolutionary psychol-
ogy. Scholars as well as practitioners educated in these disciplines could benefit from a
systematic survey of the mechanisms studied in the academic literature. We present an
overview of research on determinants of charitable giving from all disciplines.
2 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
More than 30 years ago, David Horton Smith wrote that “scholars concerned about
voluntary action research should consciously seek out cross-disciplinary inputs”
(D. H. Smith, 1975), a call that Payton, Tempel, and Rosso (1991) and Clotfelter
(1997) more recently made as well. Since the 1980s, philanthropic studies have
emerged as a new, multidisciplinary field in the social sciences (Katz, 1999). However,
a strong tendency in the past 30 years toward specialization among scientists in differ-
ent disciplines has created the undesirable situation that scholars usually know little
about the insights gathered in other disciplines. In addition, few of the insights from
the academic literature have found their way in handbooks on fundraising. The assess-
ment by Lindahl and Conley (2002) that fundraising is “a field in need of a greater
base of substantive, objective research rather than a casual acceptance of anecdotical
evidence” still holds. For instance, Warwick’s (2001) guide to successful fundraising
letters contains literally zero references to scientific research. This article aims to
guide scholars as well as practitioners in the third sector through the available knowl-
edge on determinants of charitable giving by individuals and households. We define
charitable giving as the donation of money to an organization that benefits others
beyond one’s own family.
Previous reviews available to researchers in philanthropy are mostly confined to a
specific discipline or a limited period of time. Recently, Sargeant and Woodliffe (2007)
reviewed the literature on charitable giving from a marketing perspective. Reviews in
the field of social psychology have dealt with helping behavior in general (Batson,
1998; Piliavin & Charng, 1990; Schroeder, Dovidio, Penner, & Piliavin, 1995;
Schwartz, 1975). Helping behavior is a very broad category of actions, ranging from
assisting a stranger in an emergency (e.g., saving somebody from a fire, (Latané &
Darley, 1970) to donating a piece of one’s body to a relative (e.g., bone marrow dona-
tion; Schwarz & Howard, 1980). Charitable giving is studied as an example of helping
behavior in the social psychological literature. The subject gained popularity in main-
stream social psychology toward the end of the 1970s and continued to be studied in
applied social psychology in the 1980s. However, charitable giving is likely to be dif-
ferent from many other forms of helping behavior. One crucial difference is that the
recipient of charitable donations is usually absent from the context in which a donation
is made, while the beneficiary is present in the helping situation investigated in most
studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. Presence of a beneficiary strongly affects
the social dynamics and motivations for helping behavior but is atypical for many
examples of philanthropy. The present review differs from that by Piliavin and Charng
(1990) in that we are not concerned primarily with the question to what extent proso-
cial behavior can be considered altruistic.
Our review also differs from that of the overviews of economic theories of giving by
Andreoni (2006), Vesterlund (2006), and Meier (2007b). Economists are increasingly
trying to incorporate basic insights from sociology and social psychology into their
models. However, many classical studies that provided these insights are unknown
or not cited in present day economics. Our review may serve as a reference resource for
Bekkers and Wiepking 3
classical intuitions. In addition, we present studies in disciplines like marketing,
geography, and biology that are not well known.
To our knowledge, no systematic reviews on philanthropy exist in the fields of
sociology or psychology. Sociologist John Wilson (2000) reviewed the literature on
volunteering. Because volunteering like philanthropy is a form of formal prosocial
behavior, there are many striking parallels between their respective determinants.
Our review differs from the reviews by Sargeant (1999), Lindahl and Conley
(2002), Havens, O’Herlihy, and Schervish (2007) and Sargeant and Woodliffe (2007),
by covering a longer period of time, studies from a larger number of sources, and
ordering the material in different categories. Many of the categories used in previous
reviews are broad groups of predictors. We present predictors of philanthropy in terms
of eight mechanisms that explain why these predictors are related to philanthropy.
We hope that our review will not only be useful for an academic audience but also
for practitioners. Experimental studies often shed light on why some people are more
likely to give and some give more generously than others. Fundraisers can take advan-
tage of the insights gained in these studies to increase fundraising effectiveness.
This article is based on an extensive literature search that we conducted using seven
types of sources. We searched (a) online full text collections of publishers (Wiley
Interscience, Emerald Insight, SpringerLink, Sage Journals Online; Elsevier’s Scirius);
(b) academic databases (PsychInfo, Sociological Abstracts, PubMed, EconLit);
(c) Google Scholar; (d) the authors’ own literature databases; (e) the references cited
in the articles we found; (f) the IUPUI Payton Library Philanthropic Studies Index;
(g) Arnova Abstracts. We used the following keywords: donations, philanthropy,
charitable giving, charitable behavior(u)r, altruism, helping, prosocial behavior. We
concluded our search in August 2007. The results of this search formed the basis for
this article. References to articles that have been published since we concluded our
search have been updated.
Then we refined our search to include only papers that contained empirical analyses
of charitable giving by adult individuals or households. Theoretical papers (not report-
ing empirical data), studies using children as participants, and studies on charitable
behavior of organizations are not reviewed. Studies on contributions to public goods in
experiments are included only when such contributions involve real monetary dona-
tions to real charitable organizations. Studies identifying individuals as beneficiaries
(e.g., “dictator games” in experimental economics) are included only when beneficia-
ries are strangers and when participants consider the outcome of their decisions to be
charitable donations. Studies in languages other than English are disregarded although
they were used to retrieve references to other studies with characteristics that fit our
restrictions. Our search yielded only a few publications in languages other than English,
notably Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, and Polish. Most of the studies were
4 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
conducted in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, the Netherlands,
and Canada. This may be a source of bias although it is unclear to what extent the bias
Unless otherwise noted, “giving” refers to voluntary charitable donations by house-
holds or individuals to nonprofit organizations as reported in questionnaires or observed
in experiments. Studies on donations to specific types of charitable organizations
(e.g., religion, health, alumni donations) are included, but denoted as such. Unless
otherwise noted, all studies are published in academic (but not necessarily peer-reviewed)
journals, books, or edited volumes. References to unpublished research were included
only if the research was publicly available.
In a literature survey like this, space constraints prohibit us to do justice to all the
arguments, findings, and methods of the studies reviewed. Also the reader should make
his or her own judgment on the quality of the papers we reviewed. We have refrained
from judgments on the quality of individual publications. To facilitate the reader’s own
judgments on the quality of the work cited, we have constructed a database containing
valuable information on the individual publications. Among others, this database
includes the exact citation, the mechanism investigated, the discipline of publication
(based on the journal and/or first author’s affiliation), and the methodology used
(survey, experiment). Two criteria we believe increase research quality are (a) when the
research aims to explicitly test or measures mechanisms that can explain charitable giv-
ing and (b) when more adequate statistical models are used.
Why Do People Give? Eight
Mechanisms That Drive Charitable Giving
Experiments in economics, sociology, social psychology, biology, and marketing have
shown how situations can be created that encourage giving. The situations in these
experiments are created by researchers, which allows for causal inferences about deter-
minants of giving. From these experiments, conclusions can be drawn about why
people give. We reviewed this literature and identify eight mechanisms as the key
mechanisms that have been studied as determinants of philanthropy. They are
(a) awareness of need; (b) solicitation; (c) costs and benefits; (d) altruism; (e) reputa-
tion; (f) psychological benefits; (g) values; (h) efficacy.
Our categorization is a refinement and extension of previous categorizations that dis-
tinguished types of “costs and benefits” associated with participation in voluntary orga-
nizations (Chinman, Wandersman, & Goodman, 2005; Clark & Wilson, 1961). In their
theory of incentive systems in organizations, Clark and Wilson (1961) distinguished
material benefits, solidary benefits, and purposive benefits associated with participation
in organizations. Charitable giving is a form of participation. Therefore the incentive
theory should be applicable. Material benefits are tangible rewards that can be assigned
a monetary value; solidary benefits are intangible social rewards, and purposive benefits
are intangible benefits associated with the goals of an organization (Chinman et al.,
2005). However, the incentive theory also seems incomplete when applied to philan-
thropy. We have refined this typology to repair two specific drawbacks.
Bekkers and Wiepking 5
The first drawback is that previous categorizations assume purposive actors who
make deliberate choices if and to what extent they will participate, depending on the
consequences of their participation actions. In this perspective, the actions of charitable
organizations and beneficiaries are ignored. In many cases donors do not actively seek
opportunities to donate, but simply respond to the needs of beneficiaries and solicitations
from charitable organizations. We distinguish these influences in separate mechanisms.
The second drawback is that the types of categories are rather broad and multidi-
mensional, covering qualitatively different processes that affect charitable giving.
Purposive benefits, for instance, cover such different mechanisms such as altruism
(benefits for beneficiaries), values (endorsement of the charity’s goals), personal sat-
isfaction from contributing, and efficacy of contributions. We argue that it is more
informative to distinguish these influences in separate mechanisms.
Our categorization of mechanisms is based on differences in four dimensions
(see Table 1), that can be captured by the questions “What?” “Where?” and “Who? ”
The first dimension is the “what,” or the physical form of the mechanism. Is it a tan-
gible object that can be touched? The second dimension is the “where,” or the location
of the mechanism. Is it located within, outside, or between individuals? The third and
fourth dimension constitute the “who,” or the parties involved. The third dimension is
the actor in the mechanism. We distinguish beneficiaries, (charitable, nonprofit) orga-
nizations, donors, and alters (people in the social environments of donors). The fourth
dimension is the target of the cause (who is affected). Targets may be donors or
Table 1. Overview of Mechanisms
Within, outside or
between people Actors Targets
1. Need Tangible and
2. Solicitation Tangible and
Between Beneficiaries and
3. Costs/benefits Tangible Outside Organizations Donors
4. Altruism Tangible Outside Donors and
5. Reputation Intangible Between Alters Donors
Intangible Within Donors Donors
7. Values Intangible Within Donors Donors and
8. Efficacy Intangible Within Organizations Donors
6 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
Each of the mechanisms is a different combination of values on the four dimen-
sions. Table 1 is not exhaustive because not all combinations occurred in the literature.
The order in which the eight mechanisms are presented below does not reflect the
importance or causal strength of the mechanisms. Rather, the order corresponds to the
chronological order in which they affect giving in the typical act of donation. In doing
so, we follow previous reviews of related literatures (Schroeder et al., 1995; Schwartz,
1975; Schwartz & Howard, 1984), in which prosocial behavior and helping others are
conceptualized as a series of consecutive decisions. For each mechanism, we present
the main effect. In many cases, these main effects can be moderated (or sometimes
mediated) by other factors. Moderating factors are factors that weaken or strengthen
the effect of the mechanism: conditions or personal characteristics that interact with
the main effect. More information on factors moderating the mechanisms can be found
in an appendix to this article, available online.
Mechanism 1: Awareness of Need
Awareness of need is a first prerequisite for philanthropy. People have to become
aware of a need for support. In terms of the four dimensions in Table 1, needs may be
tangible as well as intangible (Dimension 1: the “what”); needs reside within, between,
and outside people (Dimension 2: the “where”); needs originate from beneficiaries and
organizations and target donors (Dimensions 3 and 4: the “who”). People may have
material needs for tangible objects outside themselves (e.g., food, shelter, security,
medication, treatment), social needs (e.g., a need for company, which is something
intangible that happens between people) or psychological needs (intangible phenomena
within themselves: e.g., consolation). Awareness of need is a mechanism that is largely
beyond the control of donors, preceding the conscious deliberation of costs and ben-
efits of donating. It is the result of actions of beneficiaries (who seek help) and chari-
table organizations (who communicate needs to potential donors).
The effects of need have been documented mostly in social psychology, beginning
with a series of field experiments from the mid 1960s onwards (Berkowitz, 1968;
Berkowitz & Daniels, 1964; Schwartz, 1975). In these experiments a variety of help-
ing behaviors were studied, including practical assistance, blood donation, organ
donation, as well as donating money. Generally speaking, the degree of need for help
is positively related to the likelihood that help will be given (Levitt & Kornhaber,
1977; Schwartz, 1974; Staub & Baer, 1974). One study specifically tested for effects
of need on donations (Wagner & Wheeler, 1969) and revealed that not objective need
but subjective perceptions of need are crucial. An experimental study tested for effects
of watching a telethon and found a positive effect on attitudes toward disabled people
but not on donations (Feldman & Feldman, 1985). Survey studies reveal that more
generous alumni perceive a higher need for contributions to their alma mater (Diamond &
Kashyap, 1997; Weerts & Ronca, 2007) and that volunteers perceive a higher need for
volunteers in their community (Unger, 1991). A survey study on intentions to donate
Bekkers and Wiepking 7
to international relief organizations also reveals a positive effect of need (Cheung &
Chan, 2000). A survey study on donations to panhandlers shows that perceived need is
positively related to donations (Lee & Farrell, 2003).
Experiments usually manipulate need by exposing participants to needy victims.
Knowing a victim, however, also promotes giving to other victims to whom the indi-
vidual is not exposed directly (Small & Simonsohn, 2006). In focus groups, donors
cite knowing a (potential) beneficiary as a motive for charitable contributions
(Polonsky, Shelley, & Voola, 2002; Radley & Kennedy, 1995). Survey studies also
suggest that awareness of need is increased when people know potential beneficiaries
of a charitable organization. People who have relatives suffering from a specific ill-
ness are more likely to give to charities fighting those illnesses (Bekkers, 2008;
Burgoyne, Young, & Walker, 2005), though they may not give more on average (Smith,
Kehoe, & Cremer, 1995). A study in Norway showed that health charities fighting
more common illnesses had higher numbers of members, and therefore received
higher private contributions (Olsen & Eidem, 2003). People knowing a beneficiary of
United Way funds are more likely to donate to United Way (Pitts & Skelly, 1984).
People who have (had) “a deeply loved pet animal” are more likely to prefer giving to
animal welfare rather than other charitable causes (Bennett, 2003).
Awareness of need may also be increased by solicitors for charitable contributions
informing potential donors about the needs of victims. One experimental study found
that this technique increases the likelihood of making donations but yields lower con-
tributions among those making a donation (Dolinski, Grzyb, Olejnik, Prusakowski, &
Awareness of need is facilitated by the (mass) media. Simon (1997) shows that
more extended media coverage of an earthquake has a strong positive relationship
with private contributions supporting those affected. In turn, the amount of attention
the media pays attention to beneficiaries’ needs depends on, among others, the number
of beneficiaries (or those affected in the case of disasters), and the demographic and
psychological distance between potential donors and beneficiaries (Adams, 1986;
Simon, 1997). A survey study of donations to relief appeals—often advertised on
television—reveals that the amount of time spent watching television is positively
related to relief donations (Bennett & Kottasz, 2000).
Early analyses of charitable donations reported on tax returns reveals that donations
are higher in time periods (Schwartz, 1970) and states with more poverty (Abrams &
Schmitz, 1984; Amos, 1982), which suggests that donors respond to need with
increased contributions. Recent studies (Bielefeld, Rooney, & Steinberg, 2005;
Gittell & Tebaldi, 2006) do not uniformly support this conclusion. Schiff (1990) found
that individuals in states with higher proportions of poor households give less to higher
education and combined appeals but more to lower education. Bielefeld, Rooney, &
Steinberg (2005) found that donations to causes other than religion were higher in
areas with higher levels of income inequality, allegedly because of a higher need for
charitable contributions in these areas.
8 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
It is likely that the awareness of need for support for a specific cause among the
general public increases over time as charities working for the cause continue to exist.
In a study of Spanish development aid organizations, it was found that older charities
in the sector attracted more donations because these organizations have a larger pool
of volunteers available to them (Marcuello & Salas, 2000, 2001). A study from the
United Kingdom, however, found no effect of organizational age on private contribu-
tions to overseas charities (Khanna, Posnett, & Sandler, 1995) though an effect of age
on contributions to health, religion, and social welfare organizations was found. A later
study, found no effect of organizational age (Khanna & Sandler, 2000). A first study in
the United States found significant age effects on contributions received by organiza-
tions in the arts and culture sector, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations sponsoring
scientific research (Weisbrod & Dominguez, 1986). A later study, however, found
negative effects of organizational age for higher education institutions and scientific
research (Okten & Weisbrod, 2000). While a study from Canada found no effect of
organizational age on contributions received by organizations (Callen, 1994), both a
study from Singapore (Wong, Chua, & Vasoo, 1998) as well as a study from Norway
found positive organizational age effects (Olsen & Eidem, 2003).
Mechanism 2: Solicitation
A second mechanism that precedes the conscious deliberation of various types of
costs and benefits of donating is solicitation. Solicitation refers to the mere act of
being solicited to donate. The way potential donors are solicited determines the effec-
tiveness of solicitations. The effects of different methods are captured by the other
mechanisms. In terms of the four dimensions in Table 1, solicitations (a) may be tan-
gible (e.g., a fundraising letter) or intangible (a personal request); (b) are interactions
between people; (c) originate from beneficiaries or charitable organizations; (d) target
potential donors. Studies on solicitation have appeared in journals from a variety of
disciplines, including marketing, psychology, and economics.
A large majority of all donation acts occurs in response to a solicitation. Bryant,
Slaughter, Kang, and Tax (2003) find that 85% of donation acts among respondents in
the 1996 Independent Sector survey on Giving and Volunteering in the preceding year
are following a solicitation for a contribution. Bekkers (2005a) finds that 86% of the
donation acts in 2 weeks preceding the 2002 Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey
are following a solicitation. The evidence from these cross-sectional studies that solic-
itations greatly enhance the likelihood of donations is complemented by the earlier
experimental finding showing that actively soliciting contributions rather than pas-
sively presenting an opportunity to give increases the likelihood that people donate
(Lindskold, Forte, Haake, & Schmidt, 1977). The implication is that the more oppor-
tunities to give people encounter, the more likely they are to give. Survey studies in
marketing and sociology usually find that receiving a higher number of solicita-
tions for charitable contributions is associated with increased philanthropic activity
(Bekkers, 2005a; Lee & Farrell, 2003; Schlegelmilch, Love, & Diamantopoulos, 1997;
Bekkers and Wiepking 9
Simmons & Emanuele, 2004; Tiehen, 2001; Wiepking & Maas, 2009) although two
studies did not find such an association (Marx, 2000; Sokolowski, 1996).
This does not imply that fundraising organizations should mindlessly increase the
number of individuals receiving their appeals. A survey study of alumni donations
revealed that higher education institutions soliciting contributions from a larger pro-
portion of their alumni receive lower average contributions (Leslie & Ramey, 1988).
This finding may reflect strongly decreasing marginal utility of the number of persons
solicited. In addition, charitable organizations should take care not to overburden their
donors with solicitations. Increasing the number of solicitations may produce “donor
fatigue” and may lower the average contribution (Van Diepen, Donkers, & Franses,
2009; Wiepking, 2008b). Taking a life time value perspective, the number of solicita-
tions may even be reduced by optimizing the search for more responsive targets
(Piersma & Jonker, 2004).
It is not surprising that larger donors receive more solicitations per year for chari-
table contributions (Bekkers, 2005a; Van Diepen et al., 2009). This is not only because
solicitations yield contributions but also because responding to solicitations for contri-
butions attracts new solicitations: “Once on the list of usual suspects, I’m likely to stay
there” (Putnam, 2000; Van Diepen et al., 2009). Because of increasing numbers of
solicitations for charitable contributions, the standard response is to reject an appeal,
except for older people who tend to take appeal letters more serious and hence more
often respond to them (Diamond & Noble, 2001). As a result, it is not surprising that
small modifications of direct mail appeals do not easily affect giving (Katzev, 1995).
Even in single encounters that are unlikely to result in a long term involvement with a
charity, people try to avoid being solicited for contributions (Pancer, McMullen,
Kabatoff, Johnson, & Pond, 1979).
Mechanism 3: Costs and Benefits
The third mechanism covers the material costs and benefits associated with donating.
Adapting a definition from Clark & Wilson (1961) and Chinman, Wandersman &
Goodman (2005), we define material costs and benefits as “tangible consequences that
are associated with a monetary value.” In terms of the four dimensions in Table 1, costs
and benefits (a) are tangible objects; (b) reside outside donors; (c) originate from orga-
nizations; and (d) affect donors. Effects of costs and benefits are most often docu-
mented in studies in economics.
It is clear that giving money costs money. When the costs of a donation are lowered,
giving increases (Bekkers, 2005c; Eckel & Grossman, 2003, 2004; Karlan & List,
2006). This is not only true for the absolute costs but also for the perception of the
costs of a donation (Wiepking & Breeze, 2009). This is not to say that philanthropy is
motivated by material self-gain: because “donors will always be better off not making
10 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
a donation” (Sargeant & Jay, 2004, p. 100). Studies of hypothetical giving also show
that requests for larger donations are less likely to be honored (Andreoni & Miller,
2002; Bekkers, 2004).
Economists have studied the empirical effects of the price of giving on philan-
thropy using survey data and tax files in many papers since the 1970s. A large number
of studies have estimated the effects of tax price on philanthropy (see Abrams &
Schmitz, 1978, 1984; Andreoni, 1993; Andreoni & Payne, 2003; Auten, Cilke, &
Randolph, 1992; Auten et al., 2002; Barrett, 1991; Barrett, McGuirk, & Steinberg,
1997; Boskin & Feldstein, 1977; Brooks, 2003b; Brown, 1997; Brown & Lankford,
1992; Choe & Jeong, 1993; Chua & Wong, 1999; Daneshvary & Luksetich, 1997;
Duncan, 2004; Eaton, 2001; Feenberg, 1987; N. E. Feldman, 2007; Feldstein, 1975a,
1975b; Feldstein & Taylor, 1976; Glenday, Gupta, & Pawlak, 1986; Greenwood, 1993;
Hood, Martin, & Osberg, 1977; Jones & Posnett, 1991a, 1991b; Khanna et al., 1995;
Khanna & Sandler, 2000; Kingma, 1989; Lankford & Wyckoff, 1991; J. E. Long,
2000; McClelland & Kokoski, 1994; O’Neill, Steinberg, & Thompson, 1996; Park &
Park, 2004; Randoph, 1995; Reece, 1979; Reece & Zieschang, 1985, 1989; Ricketts &
Westfall, 1993; Robinson, 1990; Schiff, 1985, 1990; Simmons & Emanuele, 2004;
Slemrod, 1989; Richard S. Steinberg, 1985, 1991; Taussig, 1967). Reviews of these
studies are given in Steinberg (1990), Simmons & Emanuele (2004), and Peloza and
Steel (2005). The latter article provides a meta-analysis, showing that estimates of the
price effect are generally negative, but vary widely between studies, depending on the
scope of the sample and the statistical methods used. More recent estimates of price
effects, based on econometric models developed for the analysis of panel data, tend to
be lower than estimates from earlier studies (McClelland, 2002). The most recent
study reached the conclusion that changes in the tax deduction for charitable contribu-
tions have a large, persistent price effect between –0.79 and –1.26 and a smaller transi-
tory price effect between –0.40 and –0.61 (Auten, Sieg, & Clotfelter, 2002). The price
effects appear to be larger for religious donations (Wiepking, 2007). Tax benefits seem
the most important motive for payroll giving in the United Kingdom (Romney-
Alexander, 2002). When employers match charitable contributions of their employees,
they give more (Okunade & Berl, 1997).
However, when the costs of donating are increased by increasing the amount
requested, the amount donated may actually increase if the amount requested is not
perceived as excessive (Doob & McLaughlin, 1989). However, one study found that a
request for a “generous contribution” rather than a specific amount decreases the like-
lihood that a gift will be made in door-to-door solicitations (Weyant & Smith, 1987).
Desmet (1999) found a positive effect of asking for more on average donations in a
direct mail campaign among irregular donors but not among regular donors. In
addition, higher donations were offset by a lower response rate. Similar findings are
reported by Fraser, Hite, and Sauer (1988). In another study, a higher reference point
contribution increased the amount donated but did not decrease the likelihood of mak-
ing a contribution (Alpizar, Carlsson, & Johansson-Stenman, 2007).
Bekkers and Wiepking 11
The costs of a donation sometimes involve more than just money. A survey study
found that people who perceive fewer obstacles to give are more likely to give (Smith &
McSweeney, 2007). Physical discomfort also discourages philanthropy. People are more
likely to donate money to a charity when weather conditions are better. One study found
a sizeable positive effect of temperature on giving to the Salvation Army in the period
between Thanksgiving and Christmas (Jiobu & Knowles, 1974). However, an experi-
mental study of donations in church found no effect of sunshine (Soetevent, 2005).
Survey studies of the timing of donations in the United Kingdom (Banks & Tanner,
1999; Pharoah & Tanner, 1997) and Ireland (Carroll, McCarthy, & Newman, 2006)
reveal that December is by far the most generous month of the year. In the second quarter
of the year, U.K. households are more likely to give but do not give higher amounts
(Pharoah & Tanner, 1997).
Occasionally, donations to charitable organizations buy services or other “selective
incentives” (Olson, 1965). For instance, when donors to universities, museums, or
symphony orchestras get access to exclusive dinners, meetings, or special concerts.
These donations may be characterized as exchange, when they are rooted in part in
consumption motives. Offering access to exclusive services in exchange for contribu-
tions brings giving closer to buying. The benefits mechanism is mostly studied by
economists and marketing scientists. Studies on alumni giving show that alumni are
more generous after graduation if their university spent more on them (Baade &
Sundberg, 1996a, 1996b; Harrison, Mitchell, & Peterson, 1995). A study of donations
to the opera found that fringe benefits increase contributions (Buraschi & Cornelli,
2002). When these fringe benefits are matched to selected categories of gifts, giving
is pushed up even more (Andreoni & Petrie, 2004). Lotteries constitute another type
of material benefits for donations, which increase the number of donors (but not the
amount donated per donor) in fundraising campaigns (Landry, Lange, List, Price, &
Rupp, 2006). Offering material benefits may also provide donors with an excuse for
a donation in cases where they are otherwise withheld by a norm of self-interest
(Miller, 1999). A survey study of charitable gifts and lotteries in Canada reveals that
the two behaviors are complements, not substitutes (Apinunmahakul & Devlin, 2004).
Analysis of donations as reported on tax forms suggests that on the whole, philanthropic
contributions seem to depend less strongly on direct benefits than on indirect benefits
and value orientations (Amos, 1982).
A popular belief among fundraisers is that including a gift in a direct-mail package
increases donations. However, there is no strong foundation for this belief in the
empirical studies we reviewed. We found four articles testing whether a gift increases
donations (Alpizar et al., 2007; Chen, Li, & MacKie-Mason, 2006; Edlund, Sagarin,
& Johnson, 2007; Harris, Liguori, & Stack, 1973), with different results. Alpizar et al.
(2007) find that gifts increase the likelihood of contributions to a natural park in Costa
12 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
Rica. However, the gift reduced the amount contributed among donors. Edlund, Sagarin
and Johnson (2007) found that participants who were offered a bottle of water pur-
chased more raffle tickets for an alumni association, especially those who had a stron-
ger “belief in a just world.” Harris et al. (1973) conducted a series of three experiments
offering a cookie to prospective donors, and found a positive effect of a gift in only one
experiment. Chen et al. (2006) conducted an online fundraising campaign offering
premiums (mouse pads, book lights, and CD cases) but found no effect.
Having profited personally from services from a nonprofit organization seems to
enhance the probability of subsequent donations although the evidence is rather thin
(Marr, Mullin, & Siegfried, 2005; Schervish & Havens, 2002).
The effect of benefits may partly explain why congregational giving declines
when congregation size increases. In larger congregations the likelihood of having
direct personal access to clergy is much lower (Davidson & Pyle, 1994; Olson &
Caddell, 1994; Stonebraker, 2003; Sullivan, 1985; Zaleski & Zech, 1992, 1994;
Zaleski, Zech, & Hoge, 1994). However, giving may also be lower in larger groups
because of free rider-effects (Kropf & Knack, 2003; Olson & Caddell, 1994; Olson,
1965), because of a lower level of commitment to the group (Finke, Bahr, & Scheitle,
2006; Knoke, 1981), or because of a lower level of social pressure (see below). In
Presbyterian churches, however, giving increases with congregation size (Lunn,
Klay, & Douglass, 2001). Interestingly, the authors explained this finding as the result
of “increased ministerial services.”
There is a danger in offering material benefits for charitable contributions.
When people receive material benefits for helpfulness, they tend to undermine self-
attributions of helpfulness (Zuckerman, Lazzaro, & Waldgeir, 1979), which reduces
the effect of prosocial self-attributions on future helpfulness. Fringe benefits change
the decision into an exchange (do I get value for money?). Gruber (2004) finds that
subsidies for religious contributions reduce church attendance. Eckel and Grossman
(2000) find that participants in a dictator game experiment who are recruited through
flyers telling they could earn money are less generous and less strongly motivated by
nonmonetary factors than participants recruited in class. Meier (2007a) found that
removing a subsidy for private contributions to a Swiss university fund reduced such
contributions in consecutive years. This may be taken as evidence of a “crowding out”
effect of subsidies on intrinsic motivation. Not only the donor’s self-image may be
affected by entering the domain of exchange but also the nonprofit organization’s
image. Charities offering products for sale in catalogues face lower contributions
In many cases, charitable donations do not provide immediate material benefits to
oneself but do provide benefits to individuals known to the donor or a group of which
the donor is a member (Sargeant & Woodliffe, 2005; Schervish & Havens, 2002; Tam
Cho, 2002). Examples are donations to the local hospital and one’s church. Such con-
tributions can be explained as a form of generalized exchange. In addition, if the con-
tributions are made (in) public, they will be recognized by fellow community members
and may be explained by reference to the mechanism of reputation discussed below.
Bekkers and Wiepking 13
Finally, individuals may perceive their donations as fair contributions that will maintain
services that they may use at some later point in time. For instance, donors may per-
ceive donations to medical research as a means of relieving their own future health
needs (Burgoyne et al., 2005).
Mechanism 4: Altruism
An obvious reason why individuals may contribute money to charities is because they
care about the organization’s output, or the consequences of donations for beneficia-
ries. Economists, who dominate the study of this mechanism, have labeled this motive
“altruism” (Andreoni, 2006). In terms of the four dimensions in Table 1, (a) altruism
yields consequences that are tangible; (b) that reside outside individuals; (c) that
originate from donors, are often channeled through charitable organizations; and
(d) accrue solely to beneficiaries.
Purely altruistic motivation (in the economic sense) would lead individuals who
learn about an increase in contributions by others with US$1 to reduce their own con-
tribution with US$1. This is called a “crowding out” effect. Numerous studies in eco-
nomics have sought to estimate the magnitude of crowding out; a landmark study is
that of Kingma (1989). Results of empirical studies testing for crowding out effects
show that crowding out may exist, but is often less than perfect: A US$1 dollar increase
in governmental spending decreases private giving with less than US$1. Some studies
find no crowding out effect at all (Brooks, 1999; Kropf & Knack, 2003; Marcuello &
Salas, 2001; Reece, 1979) and some studies even find crowding in-effects (Brooks,
2003b; Diamond, 1999; Hughes & Luksetich, 1999; Khanna et al., 1995; Khanna &
Sandler, 2000; Okten & Weisbrod, 2000; Schiff, 1985, 1990). One study found that
increased government support was correlated with a higher number of donors but with
lower average private contributions (Brooks, 2003a).
Theoretically, the often less than perfect crowding out implies that other and per-
haps more powerful things besides altruism motivate donations. From the behavior of
donors we can infer that they do not care so much about the public benefits generated
by that their contributions. The private benefits or selective incentives (M. Olson,
1965) for contributions dominate altruistic motives. Hence donors may be called
“impure altruists” (Andreoni, 1989, 1990; Kingma, 1989). In practice, the findings
imply that “a severe cut in government funding to non-profit organizations is not
likely, on average, to be made up by donations from private donors” (Payne, 1998,
Mechanism 5: Reputation
The mechanism of reputation refers to the social consequences of donations for the
donor. In terms of Table 1, these consequences are intangible phenomena that happen
between individuals: People in the social environment of donors verbally or nonver-
bally reward donors for giving or punish them for not giving. Reputation is studied
14 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
most often in psychology and economics, together accounting for about two thirds of
the studies on this mechanism.
Giving is usually viewed as a positive thing to do (Charities Aid Foundation, 2005;
Horne, 2003; Muehleman, Bruker, & Ingram, 1976), especially when giving reduces
inequality (Brickman & Bryan, 1975), and when giving is less costly, beneficiaries are
not to blame and is more effective (Horne, 2003). Thus people who give to charitable
causes are held in high regard by their peers (Muehleman et al., 1976; Wiepking,
2008a). They receive recognition and approval from others. Laboratory experiments
with abstract public goods games by economists and social-psychologists reveal that
individuals are willing to incur costs to recognize generous contributions (Clark,
2002). Conversely, not giving damages ones reputation. This is especially true when
donations are announced in public or when they are directly observable (Alpizar et al.,
2007; Barclay, 2004; Bateson, Nettle, & Roberts, 2006; Bereczkei, Birkas, & Kerekes,
2007; Harris, Benson, & Hall, 1975; Hoffman, McCabe, & Smith, 1996; Long, 1976;
Satow, 1975; Soetevent, 2005). When given the choice, people generally prefer their
donations to be known by others (Andreoni & Petrie, 2004). Thus face-to-face solici-
tations are more effective than solicitations made over the telephone (Brockner, Guzzi,
Kane, Levine, & Shaplen, 1984), and giving people the option of donating money in
an envelope rather than having them hand over the money reduces donations (Hoffman
et al., 1996; Thornton, Kirchner, & Jacobs, 1991). Gaining reputation for donations
has been facilitated recently with the advent of ribbons (e.g., pink) and wristbands
(e.g., yellow); a practice conceptualized as “conspicuous compassion” (Grace &
Griffin, 2006; West, 2004) with an eye to the classic study of Veblen (1899).
To some extent, the effect of being watched may be physical in nature. One study
found that solicitors in a door-to-door fundraising campaign who looked potential
donors in the eye raised more money than solicitors who looked at the collecting tin
(Bull & Gibson-Robinson, 1981). Cues of being watched need not even be consciously
perceived: stylized eyes spots also have a positive effect on donations (Haley &
Recognition may be given by persons who are not physically present. Merely
knowing that one’s contribution is perceived by others may be enough to motivate
people to give. In a study determining factors that influence giving during a telethon,
Silverman, Robertson, Middlebrook, and Drabman (1984) found that viewers were
most likely to give at the times when the names of pledging donors were shown on the
screen. Because larger groups are often more anonymous, it may be that incidence and
level of donations decrease when group sizes increases in bars and school classes
(Wiesenthal, Austrom, & Silverman, 1983). Survey studies by sociologists and schol-
ars studying religion have consistently found a negative relation between the size of
congregations and religious contributions (Davidson & Pyle, 1994; Hungerman, 2005;
Olson & Caddell, 1994; Stonebraker, 2003; Zaleski & Zech, 1994; Zaleski et al.,
1994). Although donors often deny the importance of social pressure (Polonsky et al.,
2002), survey studies have found that donations are rather strongly related to measures
of social pressure (Bekkers & Schuyt, 2008; Mathur, 1996; Pitts & Skelly, 1984; Smith &
Bekkers and Wiepking 15
McSweeney, 2007). Also the finding by Clotfelter (2003) that those who are still
related to former alumni tend to give more to private colleges and universities may be
explained by the mechanism of reputation.
Mechanism 6: Psychological Benefits
Giving not only yields social benefits but also psychological benefits for the donor. In
terms of Table 1, the mechanism of psychological benefits refers to the intangible
benefits that donors bestow on themselves as a result of donating, and to the intangible
costs that donors avoid by donating. A large majority of all studies on this mechanism
is conducted by (social) psychologists who have shown that giving may contribute to
one’s self-image as an altruistic, empathic, socially responsible, agreeable, or influen-
tial person. In addition, giving is in many cases an almost automatic emotional
response, producing a positive mood, alleviating feelings of guilt, reducing aversive
arousal, satisfying a desire to show gratitude, or to be a morally just person.
The “Joy of Giving”
There is ample evidence from studies on helping behavior that helping others produces
positive psychological consequences for the helper, sometimes labeled “empathic joy”
(Batson & Shaw, 1991). In economic models of philanthropy, this category of motives
is labeled “warm glow” or “joy of giving” (Andreoni, 1989). Recent evidence from
neuropsychological studies suggests that donations to charity “elicit neural activity in
areas linked to reward processing” (Harbaugh, Mayr, & Burghart, 2007) and “anterior
sectors of the prefrontal cortex are distinctively recruited when altruistic choices pre-
vail over selfish material interests” (Moll et al., 2006). There are several reasons why
humans may have pleasurable psychological experiences on giving: people may allevi-
ate feelings of guilt (avoid punishment), feel good for acting in line with a social
norm, or feel good for acting in line with a specific (prosocial, altruistic) self-image.
Behavioral brain studies suggest these experiences require a relatively low level of
perceptual processing (Tankersley, Stowe, & Huettel, 2007).
The joy of giving (relative to keeping money for oneself) can be manipulated by
benign thoughts. People are more generous after they have spent some time thinking
about their own death (Jonas, Schimel, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2002), about an act
of forgiveness (Karremans, Lange, & Holland, 2005), or about things in life for which
they are grateful (Soetevent, 2005).
Positive moods in general may motivate giving. Strahilevitz and Myers (1998)
found that people are more likely to choose a charity donation over a discount when
buying frivolous products (e.g., Sundae, frozen yoghurt) rather than functional products
(e.g. backpack, toothpaste). A positive mood may also be induced by the question “how
do you feel today?” Most people answer positively to this question (“I’m fine, thank
you”) and are subsequently more likely to comply with a request for a donation. This is
called the “foot-in-the-mouth effect” (Aune & Basil, 1994; Dolinski et al., 2005;
16 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
Howard, 1990). It may also be that the “foot-in-the-mouth effect” works not so much
because it brings about a positive mood but because it creates relational obligations
(Dolinski et al., 2005).
The advice to fundraisers is to test fundraising materials for their mood effects and
to avoid the use of materials that bring about a negative mood. Simply telling prospec-
tive donors that donating will bring them in a good mood increases giving, especially
when victims are depicted as innocent (Benson & Catt, 1978). Donors also self-report
“feeling good” as a motive for donating to charitable causes (57% of a sample of
Dutch citizens in Wunderink, 2000).
In specific circumstances, negative moods can also encourage giving. Cunningham
et al. (1980) show that people in a good mood respond better to rewards associated
with giving (a warm-glow feeling, or a present) and that people in a bad mood are
more responsive toward avoiding punishments that come with not giving (for example
the phrase “Image how you would feel not helping”).
When giving entails positive psychological benefits, people are said to have positive
personal norms (Schwartz, 1970). Personal norms strengthen the effect of social
norms. When the social norm is to give, those who feel bad about themselves for
violating the norm are more likely to give. Not giving would entail feelings of guilt,
shame, or dissonance with one’s self-image. Experiments on helping behavior show
that assisting others may be an effective way of repairing one’s self-image after one
has harmed another (Carlsmith & Gross, 1969; Freedman, Wallington, & Bless, 1967;
Konečki, 1972; Regan, Williams, & Sparling, 1972).
One study tested the guilt hypothesis by comparing donations among people enter-
ing a church during confession hours and people leaving church after confession,
when their guilt had been reduced (Harris, Benson, & Hall, 1975). Consistent with the
guilt hypothesis, the former group donated more often than the latter. Although the
higher likelihood of obtaining social approval among coreligionists for donations may
also explain this difference, another more recent study confirms that feelings of guilt
promote donations (Basil, Ridgway, & Basil, 2006). The study also showed that feel-
ings of guilt lead to giving by enhancing feelings of responsibility.
Survey studies have also provided evidence of a link between an altruistic self-
image and philanthropy. Many studies find that dispositional empathy (measured with
items like “I am a soft-hearted person”) is positively related to charitable giving
(Bekkers, 2006b; Bennett, 2003; Davis, 1983; Piferi, Jobe, & Jones, 2006; Wilhelm &
Bekkers, 2010). One study that asked individuals whether they would be more or less
generous than average found that donors considered themselves more generous than
nondonors (Schlegelmilch, Diamantopoulos, & Love, 1997). However, giving is not
only the result of an altruistic self-image but also reinforces such an image. Piliavin
and Callero (1991) found that blood donors develop an altruistic self-identity as a
result of continued blood donation. A similar process is likely to exist for the donation
Bekkers and Wiepking 17
of money to charitable causes (L. Lee, Piliavin, & Call, 1999). It is likely that such a
reciprocal relationship between giving and altruistic self-image also exists for tradi-
tional philanthropy although Sokolowski (1996) did not find evidence for this assump-
tion using cross-sectional data. Twenge, Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, and Bartels
(2007) find that empathy mediates a negative effect of social exclusion on charitable
giving. People feeling socially excluded temporally lack the ability to experience
empathic concern, decreasing the incidence and level of charitable giving.
The self-image mechanism can be used by charities in fundraising campaigns.
Experimental field studies with adults have found that labeling potential helpers as
“helpers” promotes helping behavior. Kraut (1973) found that if a canvasser labeled
donors to one charity as “charitable” but did not make such a comment to other donors,
a consecutive fundraising campaign was more successful among those who had been
labeled charitable. Swinyard and Ray (1979) also found a positive labeling effect.
A self-image of being helpful can also be created by the “foot-in-the-door technique.”
The technique includes making a small request before a larger request is made.
Compliance with the first request makes people feel helpful, which creates a pressure
to comply with the second, larger request (Freedman & Fraser, 1996; Rittle, 1981).
The promise elicitation technique (Cialdini, 2001, p. 62) is another method to take
advantage of the desire of people to behave in a manner consistent with their self-
image. People tend to regard themselves as more generous than their peers (Muehleman
et al., 1976; Pronin, Lin, & Ross, 2002) and tend to overestimate their generosity in
hypothetical (Bekkers, 2006a) and real life situations (Komter, 1996). When they are
first asked their intentions to give, they are more likely to give in real life because
people want to live up to their self-image.
Kerr et al. (1997) found that commitment to a promise made to unknown others
motivated contributions in an experimental game situation. Not contributing would
create cognitive dissonance, feelings of guilt. Donors anticipate feelings of guilt on
reducing their current level of giving. Sargeant and Woodliffe (2005) found that com-
mitted donors perceived that “there would be a consequence for the beneficiary group
of their withdrawing their support.” Another survey study found that respondents
who anticipated feeling guilty for not giving were more likely to give (Smith &
Although the majority of studies on self-image have focused on altruism or helpful-
ness, other types of self-images may promote giving as well. For instance, giving
enhances one’s self esteem (Ickes, Kidd, & Berkowitz, 1976). People may be moti-
vated to give to enhance their self-esteem. A survey study in the United Kingdom
found that individuals who report a stronger sense of accomplishment are more likely
to donate (Sargeant, Ford, & West, 2000). A survey study in New Zealand found that
individuals with a more active orientation to life are more likely to donate (Todd &
Lawson, 1999). A similar finding emerges from a survey study in the Netherlands,
in which more extraverted individuals—commonly described as more active and
outgoing—are more likely to give and give higher amounts (Bekkers, 2006b). One
study did not find an association between “empowerment” and giving to human
18 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
services (Marx, 2000). Another survey study found that esteem-enhancing motivations
among older adults were negatively correlated with giving (Mathur, 1996).
Mechanism 7: Values
In the eyes of donors, the works of nonprofit organizations may make the world a
better place. Attitudes and values endorsed by donors make charitable giving more or
less attractive to donors. Donations can also be instrumental to exemplifying one’s
endorsement of specific values to others, but this is captured by the mechanism of
reputation. In terms of Table 1, values are intangible phenomena located within indi-
viduals, originating from donors, and targeted at themselves as well as beneficiaries.
Studies on the effects of values are most often published by journals in sociology,
psychology, and philanthropic studies.
Endorsement of prosocial values generally has a positive association with charitable
giving. Because values are difficult if not impossible to manipulate, experimental stud-
ies on the effects of social values on philanthropy are nonexistent. Some experimental
studies link survey measures of attitudes and values to donations: humanitarianism and
egalitarianism (Fong, 2007) and prosocial value orientations (Van Lange, Van Vugt,
Bekkers, & Schuyt, 2007). Survey studies, mostly conducted by sociologists and mar-
keting scientists, show that people who have altruistic values (Bekkers & Schuyt, 2008;
Farmer & Fedor, 2001), who have prosocial values (Bekkers, 2006b, 2007; Van Lange
et al., 2007), who are less materialistic in general (Sargeant et al., 2000), who endorse
postmaterialistic goals in politics (Bekkers & Wiepking, 2006), who value being devout
and spiritual (Todd & Lawson, 1999), who endorse a moral principle of care (Schervish
& Havens, 2002; Wilhelm & Bekkers, 2010), who care about social order, consensus,
and social justice in society (Todd & Lawson, 1999), who feel socially responsible for
the recipient organization (Weerts & Ronca, 2007) and society as a whole (Amato,
1985; Reed & Selbee, 2002; Schuyt, Smit, & Bekkers, 2010) are more likely to give
because they are motivated to make the world a better place.
Not only do some social values promote donations in general but also do specific
social values promote donations to particular charities (Wiepking, 2009). Philanthropy
is a means to reach a desired state of affairs that is closer to one’s view of the “ideal”
world. What that ideal world looks like depends on one’s value system. Through giv-
ing, donors may wish to make the distribution of wealth and health more equal; they
may wish to reduce poverty, empower women, safeguard human rights, to protect
animals, wildlife, or the ozone layer. Donors may also have objectives that are partisan
or even terrorist. Supporting a cause that changes the world in a desired direction is a
key motive for giving that has received very little attention in the literature. The desire
for social justice is most often studied in relation to philanthropy (Furnham, 1995;
Todd & Lawson, 1999). Bennett (2003) studied the relationship between personal val-
ues and the choice of charitable organizations and found that a similarity between
personal values and organizational values increases the probability that a donation to
that particular organization is made. Keyt, Yavas, and Riecken (2002) found that
Bekkers and Wiepking 19
donors to the American Lung Association are more concerned about health issues than
nondonors. In addition, donors to political parties endorse values central to the ideol-
ogy of those parties (Francia, Green, Herrnson, Powell, & Wilcox, 2005).
Mechanism 8: Efficacy
Efficacy refers to the perception of donors that their contribution makes a difference
to the cause they are supporting. In terms of the four dimensions in Table 1, efficacy
perceptions are intangible (psychological) consequences of donations for donors,
generated by charitable organizations. Efficacy is most often studied in philanthropic
studies, economics, and psychology, respectively.
Survey studies reveal that when people perceive that their contribution will not
make a difference, they are less likely to give (Arumi et al., 2005; Diamond & Kashyap,
1997; Duncan, 2004; Mathur, 1996; Radley & Kennedy, 1992; Smith & McSweeney,
2007) or leave a charitable bequest (Wiepking, Madden, & McDonald, 2010). These
findings may be the result of reverse causality and/or justification.
Although efficacy has been studied extensively in the helping behavior literature,
we have been unable to locate any experimental studies on philanthropy that manipu-
lated efficacy. Experiments with public goods games have found that contributions to
public goods increase with the perceived efficacy of contributions (Sweeney, 1973).
Three experimental studies tested the effect of providing donors with information
about the effectiveness of contributions and found positive effects on philanthropy
(Jackson & Mathews, 1995; Parsons, 2003, 2007). It appears that financial information
is especially influential among committed donors (Parsons, 2007). Studies of aggre-
gate donations at the state level, however, do not find a consistently positive effect of
the level of accountability of charitable organizations required in a state (Berman &
Davidson, 2003; Irvin, 2005). Studies of private contributions received by nonprofit
organizations in Canada and the United States find that organizational efficiency are
positively related to private donations (Callen, 1994; Trussell & Parsons, 2007).
People generally overestimate the effectiveness of their own contributions (Kerr,
1989). In their study of opera donations, Buraschi and Cornelli (2002) found that this
holds especially for low-income donors. There appear to be individual differences in
the tendency to view contributing to public goods in a rational manner. People who do
so follow the free rider-reasoning (Olson, 1965): An additional dollar does not solve
the problem; not giving does not make things worse. Survey studies reveal that a more
coldly rational approach to life reduces giving (Bekkers, 2006b; Todd & Lawson,
1999) and is related to a lower level of volunteering (Bekkers, 2005b; Unger, 1991).
Perceived efficacy is a likely explanation for the effects of leadership donations and
seed money that have been studied extensively by economists (Andreoni & Petrie,
2004; Bac & Bag, 2003; Chen et al., 2006; Landry et al., 2006; List & Lucking-Reiley,
2002; List & Rondeau, 2003; Potters, Sefton, & Vesterlund, 2005). When people see
that others give to a charity, they can take this as a signal that others have confidence
in the organization. The leadership effect was described earlier by social psychologists
20 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
as a “modeling effect” (Bryan & Test, 1967; Lincoln, 1977; Reingen, 1982). Lincoln
(1977) found that observing another person make a donation increased subsequent
donations, especially if the model was a male. Jiobu and Knowles (1974) however,
found no modeling effect. A matching offer by a third party (e.g., one’s employer) can
also have a legitimizing effect: People will think that the third party had enough con-
fidence in the organization to offer the matching contribution. Endorsement of a char-
ity by a high status person is also likely to generate higher donations through a
legitimization effect. One field experiment with a health charity (Vriens, Scheer,
Hoekstra, & Bult, 1998) found that a signature by a professor in health care research
raised donations by 2.4%. A lab experiment found that observing high status individu-
als making donations lead others to increase their donations, whereas the leadership
effect was not found when low status individuals were observed making contributions
(Kumru & Vesterlund, 2005).
Surveys reveal that donors have an aversion against expensive fundraising methods
(Arumi et al., 2005; Sargeant & Woodliffe, 2005; Schervish & Havens, 2002). Evidence
from the United Kingdom (Sargeant et al., 2000) and the Netherlands (Bekkers, 2003)
suggests that donors overestimate fundraising costs of charitable organizations. An
experiment revealed that donors react less positively to “flashy” fundraising materials
(Bekkers & Crutzen, 2007). Low-perceived efficacy decreases giving more strongly
among altruistically motivated donors (Bekkers, 2006a).
Perceptions of efficacy are related to charitable confidence and perceptions of over-
head and fundraising costs. Donors who have more confidence in charitable organiza-
tions think their contributions are less likely to be spent on fundraising costs and
overhead (Bekkers, 2006a; Sargeant, Ford, & West, 2006). Such beliefs about the effi-
cacy of charitable organizations are likely to promote giving (Bekkers, 2006a; Bennett,
2003; Bennett & Gabriel, 2003; Bowman, 2006; Keyt et al., 2002; Parsons, 2003;
Sargeant et al., 2006; Schervish & Havens, 2002; Schlegelmilch, Diamantopoulos
et al., 1997; Yavas, Riecken, & Parameswaran, 1981). Wiepking (2009) finds that
confidence in charitable organizations specifically increases the likelihood of giving to
organizations with an international focus; she finds no relationship between confi-
dence and making donations to other types of organizations. Survey studies by
Sargeant and colleagues reveal that the relationship of confidence with giving is medi-
ated by relationship commitment (Sargeant et al., 2006; Sargeant & Lee, 2004).
Although attractive design of fundraising materials is often believed to attract the
attention of donors (Diamond & Gooding-Williams, 2002), field experiments tell a
different story. Warwick (2001) reports 23 tests of design elements on outer envelopes
used in donor acquisition mailings and found no effect in 19 cases, a negative effect in
three cases, and a positive effect in only one case. In a field experiment with direct-
mail letters for a health charity, the optimal fundraising letter was found to contain no
“amplifiers” (like bold printing), and no illustration (Vriens et al., 1998). In a field
experiment with donations in a campaign for refugees in Ruanda, Bekkers and Crutzen
(2007) found that a plain envelope raised more money than an envelope including a
picture of the beneficiaries.
Bekkers and Wiepking 21
How Do the Mechanisms Relate to Each Other?
The relative influence of each of the eight mechanisms—whether donations are pri-
marily made in response to awareness of need, solicitation, costs and benefits, altruism,
reputation concerns, psychological rewards, or efficacy—is unclear. Multiple motives
are likely to operate simultaneously (Batson & Shaw, 1991; Clotfelter, 1997) and the
mix of these motives differs over time, place, organizations, and donors. It is also
likely that the eight mechanisms have interactive effects (e.g., that awareness of need
may promote giving more strongly when efficacy is high). We think that identifying
systematic patterns in the mix of the mechanisms and interactions among them are
important tasks for future research.
Throughout our review, we have distinguished experimental from survey studies.
Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages. Experiments typi-
cally test for short-term effects of manipulations, create artificial conditions, and rely
on small groups of participants (university students). Strictly speaking, results cannot
be generalized to the general population. The advantage of experimental control is the
potential to draw causal inferences. Survey studies typically investigate donations
over a longer period to real organizations among population samples but cannot be
used to infer causation.
Much would be gained by combining the strengths of the two methods. However,
due to specialization of scholars in disciplines with different methodological prefer-
ences, there are virtually no studies combining survey and experimental methods (an
exception is Bekkers, 2007b). We hope that with this review, researchers using either
method will become more aware of the insights gained in studies using the other
method. In particular, insights from experimental studies illuminate results from sur-
vey studies. We illustrate this with a discussion of the influence of religion on philan-
thropy. What mechanisms may explain this relation? Scholars often distinguish
“conviction” and “community” or “norms” and “networks” as two broad explana-
tions (Bekkers & Schuyt, 2008; Jackson, Bachmeier, Wood, & Craft, 1995; Wuthnow,
1991). “Conviction” refers to (religious) beliefs, values and attitudes that encourage
altruism; “community” refers to identification with the religious community, social
pressure, and solicitations for contributions. The “conviction” explanation pulls
together three mechanisms: altruism (a real concern for others), psychological bene-
fits (earning one’s place in heaven), and values (the importance of helping others).
“Community” pulls together solicitation (receiving requests for contributions),
reputation (recognition from others), and psychological benefits (feeling part of a
A Case for Progress?
If the studies discussed above are viewed in a chronological order, do we then see any
evidence for theoretical progress in the study of philanthropy? Taken together, theo-
retical progress in the literature on philanthropy is limited. The majority of articles we
22 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
reviewed are not based on solid theoretical foundations. This is not to say that there
is no progress at all; subsequent studies may build on theoretical arguments without
making them explicit. If the implicit hypotheses are reconstructed, we may detect
progress. We do not make this exercise here because it is not the purpose of the pres-
ent article. Instead, we will indicate groups of studies in which we discern theoretical
A set of articles published in social psychology from the 1970s to mid 1980s may
be characterized as applied research testing for boundary conditions of fundamental
mechanisms. Although the insights from these studies may be reconstructed as refine-
ments of general hypotheses, the studies themselves often do not state these hypothe-
Another set of articles, published in economics, does have more solid theoretical
foundations. Model building in economics started with the public good model, but
when no or little crowding out was observed in empirical studies, the model was found
too crude. Subsequently, impure altruism models were proposed (Andreoni, 1989,
1990), collapsing all nonaltruistic motives in one parameter. The revision of the model
in subsequent studies as a result of empirical disconfirmation is a clear example of
Other formal models of philanthropy deal with only one mechanism. Glazer and
Konrad (1986) have modeled the reputation mechanism in a mathematical form. They
call their model a signaling explanation for charity. By giving, people signal to others
that they are concerned about others and/or that they have wealth (Frank, Gilovich, &
Regan, 1996). Both signals buy prestige (Harbaugh, 1998). Duncan’s model of impact
philanthropy focuses on the desire of donors to have impact on beneficiaries (Duncan,
2004). The model accurately describes one specific ingredient of the “warm glow.” As
far as we know, there are no theoretical models describing the mechanisms of solicita-
tion, psychological rewards, values, and efficacy.
Philanthropic acts are commonly the result of multiple mechanisms working at
once. However, formal models of philanthropy (e.g., Ribar & Wilhelm, 2002) have
focused on only one or sometimes two motives. More than 10 years ago, Brown (1997,
p. 183) described the state of affairs with regard to theory as follows: “No single model
captures all the motivations that underlie charitable action.” Although it is probably
impossible to capture all mechanisms in one elegant formal model, Brown’s assess-
ment still holds and provides a challenge for model builders.
There is a large potential for theoretical progress in the literature on philanthropy.
The challenge for all scholars, model builders, and other scientists alike is to test
competing alternative explanations—potentially from different disciplines—against
each other. Scholars trying to prove their pet theories do not add much to our under-
standing of philanthropy. Progress is hindered by the lack of awareness of research in
distant times and disciplines. Hopefully this review reduces some of the barriers to
Bekkers and Wiepking 23
In the literature review we have described eight mechanisms that drive charitable
giving. This appendix describes factors moderating the effects of the mechanisms.
Moderators are factors that weaken the effect of the mechanism (negative modera-
tors) or strengthen the effect (positive moderator). Moderators may be other mecha-
nisms, situational conditions, or personal characteristics.
Mechanism 1: Awareness of Need. Moderators of the effect of need include other
mechanisms: costs, reputation, psychological benefits, and efficacy; situational condi-
tions: dependence of the beneficiary on the donor; and personal characteristics: per-
ceptions of deservingness; acceptance (vs. denial) of responsibility, mood religiosity,
and political orientation.
Costs. Material costs moderate the effect of need. When a larger need implies a
higher cost, it does not increase helping behavior (Piliavin & Piliavin, 1972).
Reputation. An experiment on volunteering revealed that the opportunity to gain
social approval for helping promotes the effect of need (Fisher & Ackerman, 1998).
Psychological benefits. Awareness of need has little effect if potential donors face
psychological costs when confronted with the need. In an early study, a picture of a
needy, handicapped child was found to depress giving in a door-to-door fundraising
campaign presumably because it depressed the mood of potential donors (Isen &
Noonberg, 1979). Dyck and Coldevin (1992) came to the same conclusion in an exper-
iment testing the effect of no photo, a positive, and a negative photograph in appeal
letters. The picture with “a less pleasant, needy “negative” photograph” yielded lowest
response rates and contributions.
Efficacy. The display of need may backfire when the need is perceived as impossible
to solve (Small, Loewenstein, & Slovic, 2007; for further evidence on the interaction
with efficacy, see below; Warren & Walker, 1991) or when a picture displaying needy
recipients depresses the potential helper (Isen & Noonberg, 1979). In face-to-face
solicitations, a picture to illustrate need may make no difference at all (Thornton,
Kirchner, & Jacobs, 1991). Finally, West and Brown (1975) found in an experiment
with helping behavior that severity of need did result in more giving when the victim
was more attractive.
Dependence. Berkowitz (1968) found that need produces helping only when the
beneficiary is dependent on help from the donor. In addition, social class differences
were found. Working class boys tended to react to need only when they had received
help earlier, especially from the same person. Middle-class boys were not affected by
help received. Thus when victims are dependent on potential helpers and these helpers
adhere to a moral principle of care, need produces helping.
Perceptions of deservingness and acceptance of responsibility. Whether beneficiaries
are perceived as deserving also moderates the effect of need (Miller, 1977). When
24 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
victims are perceived as causes of their own misfortune, potential donors may deny
their responsibility for relieving the needs of the victim (Furnham, 1995). For example,
people are less prepared to sponsor welfare recipients when they know the recipients
are unwilling to engage in paid work (Fong, 2007). Refusals to give to the homeless
are often explained in these terms (Radley & Kennedy, 1992), as are refusals to give
to poverty relief in developing countries (Bennett & Kottasz, 2000; Taormina,
Messick, Iwawaki, & Wilke, 1988). Denial of responsibility is less likely to occur
when the fate of victims is perceived as beyond people’s control (Lerner & Simmons,
1966), at least among politically liberal individuals (Skitka, Mullen, Griffin, Hutchinson,
& Chamberlin, 2002). Survey data reveal that awareness of need is not associated with
giving when potential donors attribute responsibility to government (Eschholz & Van
Slyke, 2002; Polonsky, Shelley, & Voola, 2002; Radley & Kennedy, 1992).
It should be noted that denial of responsibility is sometimes a consequence of not
helping, rather than a cause. People are creative in finding post hoc excuses for not
giving (Hibbert, Chatzidakis, & Smith, 2005). Ascription of responsibility is also a
dispositional variable that determines people’s motivation to engage in helping behav-
ior (Bennett, 2003; Furnham, 1995; Schwartz, 1973, 1974). Denial of responsibility is
related to the belief in a just world, the belief that people get what they deserve and
deserve what they get (Appelbaum, 2002; Furnham, 1995; Lerner & Simmons, 1966).
Econometric studies suggest that donors weigh the needs of distant others against the
future needs of their own children. Parents give more to charities when their children
are economically better off ( Auten & Joulfaian, 1996; Joulfaian, 2004). They reduce
giving to charities and increase bequests when their children’s income is lower.
Identification of a specific victim. Solicitations for contributions that identify a specific
victim are more likely to result in willingness to contribute (Kogut & Ritov, 2005a,
2005b) and actual donations than solicitations that provide statistical information on
the number of victims (Small & Loewenstein, 2003; Small et al., 2007). Information
about single victims is more vivid and more emotionally distressing than information
about multiple unidentified victims (Kogut & Ritov, 2005a, 2005b).
Religious and political preferences. Finally, what constitutes need or whether a (group
of) needy person(s) is also deserving of assistance is controversial. A participant in an
Australian focus group study (Polonsky et al., 2002) said, “What constitutes a need to
one person is not to another.” Persons from different religious backgrounds (Will &
Cochran, 1995) and with different political preferences (Skitka et al., 2002) may eval-
uate the same objective situation differently.
Overall strength of effect. The result of these moderating factors is that the overall
effect of need on giving is small. It may well be that instead of the most needy, those
with the best marketers receive the highest contributions (Polonsky et al., 2002). Thus
it is the awareness of need that is related to giving rather than the objective need. As
Milofsky and Blades (1991) point out, the largest health charities in the United States
include organizations for rare diseases like muscular dystrophy (affecting only 6 children
in 100,000) and cystic fibrosis (affecting 20 in 100,000).
Bekkers and Wiepking 25
Mechanism 2: Solicitation. Obviously, not all types of solicitations are equally
effective. Ingredients of the most effective solicitations are discussed in the literature
review under the other mechanisms. For instance, a solicitation for a contribution is
likely to be more effective if giving in response to the solicitation provides an oppor-
tunity to acquire, maintain, or strengthen a positive social reputation. In addition,
some types of people may be more compliant with requests for charitable contribu-
tions than others. The analyses reported in Bryant et al. (2003) suggest this; however,
because this study is based on survey data it may also reflect self-selection of these
respondents. Finally, one remarkable study tested whether monetary compensation
paid to solicitors for successful solicitations affects the likelihood of success (Gneezy
& List, 2006). One group of solicitors was paid 100% more for going door to door
than another group. The result was that an initially positive effect of overpayment
waned after a few hours.
Mechanism 3: Costs and Benefits. Although we have found no studies that inves-
tigated moderators of the effects of material benefits of donations, many studies have
examined moderators of the material costs of giving. Price effects depend on the
psychological benefits of donations, national context, characteristics of recipient
organizations, and personal characteristics of donors.
Psychological benefits. It makes a difference how price reductions are framed: when
price reductions are presented as rebates—“when you give €1, you pay only €0.50”—
they are less effective than when presented as matches—“when you give €1, we’ll add
another €1”; (Bekkers, 2005; Eckel & Grossman, 2003, 2004). It is believed that fram-
ing price reductions as rebates yields a perceptual focus on the material costs of donat-
ing. Framing price reductions as matches, in contrast, yields a perceptual focus on the
benefits for beneficiaries of donations. However, other studies cast doubt on the gener-
ality (Fraser & Hite, 1989) and validity (Davis, Millner, & Reilly, 2005) of the framing
That the subjective perception of costs is important also becomes apparent from the
“low ball-effect.” The low ball technique refers to the practice of revealing hidden
costs after people have expressed willingness to comply with a request (Cialdini,
Cacioppo, Bassett, & Miller, 1978). For instance, people are first asked to donate a
small amount (they are thrown the low ball), for example, a donation to a museum of
US$0.75. After they have agreed to do so, an additional amount is requested, for exam-
ple US$0.25 for the museums children’s program (Brownstein & Katzev, 1985).
Another set of findings illustrating that it matters how costs are perceived concern the
“door-in-the-face effect.” This effect refers to the observation that people are more
likely to comply with a request after they received a more sizeable request that they
find unacceptable. Compared to the first, excessive request, the second appears as a
small concession (Abrahams & Bell, 1994; Cialdini et al., 1975; Reingen, 1978). In a
study by Brownstein and Katzev (1985), visitors to a museum were asked to donate
US$1 “to cover reduced funding.” In a control group, 73% did so; in an experimental
group that first received a request to donate US$5, 87% did so (though this difference
26 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
is not statistically significant, pp. 570-571). Fundraisers who want to use this technique
should be aware that the first request should be perceived as legitimate. If not, a
boomerang effect may occur (Schwarzwald, Raz, & Zvibel, 1979). The Door-in-the-
face effect can be enhanced by having a person make the request whose approval the
potential donor finds more important (Williams & Williams, 1989).
National context. There are substantial differences between countries in the price of
giving as well as in the price effect. Wong, Chua, and Vassoo (1998) find much stron-
ger price effects for donations in Singapore (varying from –2.0 to –5.5) than com-
monly found in U.S. studies; Wu, Huang, and Kao (2004) find price effects ranging
from –2.2 to –3.3 in Taiwan. However, UK residents seem to be less responsive to tax
incentives (A. Jones & J. Posnett, 1991; A. M. Jones & J. W. Posnett, 1991). In addi-
tion, there are also large differences in the extent that people choose to itemize their
gifts. For example, in the Netherlands, religious groups use tax deductions extensively
(Wiepking, 2007). But those religiously affiliated in Canada itemize rarely (Kitchen,
1992). Nonitemizers are less sensitive to changes in tax price (Duquette, 1999; Eaton,
2001). One reason may be that they don’t know about the deduction (McGregor-
Lowndes, Newton, & Marsden, 2006). Obviously, if households do not know about
the possibility of deducing donations from their tax income, they are unlikely to
respond to tax incentives. In such cases, publicizing favorable tax treatment of chari-
table contributions is likely to increase the donor pool and/or the amount contributed
(Boatright, Green, & Malbin, 2006).
Subsector. Different studies find different price effects for different types of organi-
zations. Widely different estimates are reported by Schiff (1990). Religious donations
appear less price sensitive than donations to nonreligious organizations in three studies
(Feldstein, 1975b; McClelland & Kokoski, 1994; Taussig, 1967) but more price sensi-
tive in another (Reece, 1979). Price effects on donations to international relief and
development organizations appear to be larger than on donations to other organiza-
tions (Ribar & Wilhelm, 1995).
Personal characteristics. Personal characteristics moderating the price effect include
marriage and income. Married males are found to be more sensitive to the price of
giving than married females (Andreoni & Payne, 2003). Price effects usually increase
with income (G. E. Auten, Cilke, & Randolph, 1992; Duquette, 1999; Feldstein &
Taylor, 1976; O’Neill, Steinberg, & Thompson, 1996; Robinson, 1990); some studies
find that among the highest income groups price effects decline again (Boskin & Feldstein,
1977; Feldstein, 1975a; Taussig, 1967). A study of philanthropy in Singapore found
that the tax price effect declined with education (Chua & Wong, 1999).
Mechanism 4: Altruism. Effects of altruism vary with the awareness of need and the
efficacy of donations, the information about donations of others provided to potential
donors, beliefs about changes in contributions by others; the size of contributions of
others; fundraising activities by nonprofit organizations. Also, altruism effects differ
between sectors receiving donations and between donors with different levels of
Bekkers and Wiepking 27
Awareness of need and efficacy. If the nonprofit organization publicizes donations
received, donors may react in several ways. If the need for contributions is perceived
as lower because of the increase in contributions by others, donors may lower their
own contribution. This tendency, however, may be offset by the quality signal sent out
by the donations of others. If high status individuals made a contribution, donors may
take that contribution as a signal that the charity is of a good quality, enhancing the
organizations’ perceived trustworthiness and efficacy.
Amount contributed by others. Contributions by others may have decreasing marginal
utility: studies of American theatres (Borgonovi, 2006) and symphony orchestras
(Brooks, 2000b) reveal that small increases in public funding have a stronger crowding-
in effect than large increases.
Subsector. Crowding out estimates appear to be stronger in the human services sec-
tor with a number of studies finding considerable crowding out (Amos, 1982; Ferris &
West, 2003; Hungerman, 2005; Payne, 1998; Schiff, 1990), whereas other studies find
smaller or no crowding out effects (Brooks, 2002; Lindsey & Steinberg, 1990; Long,
2000; Reece, 1979; Steinberg, 1985). One study from the United Kingdom found
slight crowding in (Posnett & Sandler, 1989). Bielefeld, Rooney & Steinberg (2005)
find that higher state social service spending is associated with a lower likelihood of
households donating but find no link with the amount contributed. For organizations
in the health sector, several studies find some crowding out (Brooks, 2000a; Khanna,
Posnett, & Sandler, 1995). State funding for research has been found to crowd in pri-
vate contributions (Connolly, 1997). Results for nonprofit organizations in the arts and
culture sector have been mixed (Brooks, 1999, 2000a; Hughes & Luksetich, 1999).
Obviously, the effect of a third party contribution depends on the information about
the third party contribution given to other potential donors. In many cases, donors do
not know about changes in the contributions of others (Horne, Johnson, & Van Slyke,
2005). In most cases when government grants are announced, it is unclear to individu-
als that the grants are financed with taxes ultimately paid by citizens themselves.
When this is made clear to individuals, third party contributions crowd out individual
contributions (Eckel, Grossman, & Johnston, 2005). In “crowding out” experiments,
information about the behavior of others is explicitly provided to participants. Hence
it should come as no surprise that laboratory experiments usually find larger crowd-
out estimates than studies using survey or tax data (Andreoni, 1993; Vesterlund, 2006).
Fundraising activities. The net effect of a change in contributions from third parties
depends on the reaction by the nonprofit organization. One potential reaction is to
reduce fundraising efforts (Andreoni & Payne, 2003). Another potential reaction is to
increase the number or quality of services rendered to donors. A study of American
theatres revealed that government funding at both the state and federal level had a
crowding in-effect on private contributions (Borgonovi, 2006), a finding potentially
caused by the provision of more or better services paid for by government grants.
Group size. The weight of altruistic concerns decreases with group size. In a large
economy, individual contributions have little impact on the provision of public goods.
28 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
Because most philanthropic organizations raise funds from a large audience, altruism
is likely to be only a minor force (Ribar & Wilhelm, 2002).
Income. One characteristic of donors examined as a moderator of crowding out
effects is income. Altruism seems to decrease with income until US$100,000, after
which it increases (Andreoni, 1990).
Mechanism 5. Reputation. The effect of reputation on giving increases with the
value of approval received by donors. The value of approval depends on the strength
of ties with persons who may observe donation acts, liking of the solicitor, group size,
social norms, and social status of the donor and solicitor.
Strong ties. Approval has a more pronounced effect when third parties with whom
the potential donor has a stronger social bond (a “strong tie”) are able to observe the
act of giving. In this condition, a mix of social and psychological benefits enhances the
effect of reputation. When a complete stranger can observe giving, there is less social
pressure than when a friend or family member is present. Social pressure is especially
strong when a strong tie makes a request for a donation. A survey study on giving
intentions showed that solicitations by persons at a closer social distance are more
likely to be honored (Bekkers, 2004). Evidence on the impact of relationship strength
on donations from surveys is mixed. While Sokolowski (1996) found that being asked
to contribute by a significant other does not increase the total amount donated, Schervish
and Havens (1997) find that people who are asked to give by a relative or a friend
donate a larger percentage of their income. Booth, Higgins, and Cornelius (1989) find
that per capita United Way contributions are higher in communities with stable popu-
lations and higher voter turnout. Not giving in social contexts where peers value giv-
ing and are important in daily life would not only endanger one’s reputation but also
the relationship with these peers.
Psychological benefits: liking of solicitor. The value of approval increases with liking of
the solicitor, which increases the psychological benefits of donating. One way to
increase liking is through similarity (Byrne, 1971). Requests by similar persons are
more likely to be honored because we like them better. Field experiments on helping
behavior have found similarity effects for religion (Yinon & Sharon, 1985), race
(Bryan & Test, 1967; Gaertner & Dovidio, 1977), gender (Bryan & Test, 1967; Lindskold,
Forte, Haake, & Schmidt, 1977), social attitudes (Sole, Marton, & Hornstein, 1975),
educational institution (Aune & Basil, 1994; Howard, Gengler, & Jain, 1995), and
personal characteristics such as sharing a birthday or name (Burger, Messian, Patel,
del Prado, & Anderson, 2004).
Even when total strangers solicit contributions, familiarity with these strangers cre-
ated by a brief unrelated dialogue increases the likelihood of contributions, possibly
because familiarity increases liking (Dolinski, Grzyb, Olejnik, Prusakowski, & Urban,
2005; Dolinski, Nawrat, & Rudak, 2001; Macaulay, 1975). Increased liking is also a
likely explanation for the finding that students tend to give more to professors who
remember their name (Howard et al., 1995).
Another mundane factor that promotes liking is beauty. A few studies have found
that people are more likely to give to physically attractive people (Landry, Lange, List,
Bekkers and Wiepking 29
Price, & Rupp, 2006; West & Brown, 1975; Wiesenthal, Austrom, & Silverman, 1983).
One study found this to be the case more strongly for males answering the door
(Landry et al., 2006). This may be a reason why female solicitors are sometimes more
successful than male solicitors (Lindskold et al., 1977). One survey study on alumni
giving found an opposite sex-effect (Belfield & Beney, 2000) but an experimental
study did not (Bekkers, 2007a).
Attire may also moderate the effect of approval. Well-dressed solicitors raised
more money in two studies, (Levine, Bluni, & Hochman, 1998; Williams &
Williams, 1989) but not in two others (Bull & Gibson-Robinson, 1981; McElroy &
Group size. The value of approval increases with the number of persons recognizing
the gift. One study found that people give more when accompanied by others, espe-
cially by females (Jiobu & Knowles, 1974). Another study we found tested the effect
of multiple solicitors. When requests for donations are made by two solicitors, people
are more likely to give—though less than twice (Jackson & Latané, 1981).
Social norms. The value of approval also increases with the perceived desirability of
giving among one’s peers. Religious persons are expected to be more generous than the
nonreligious (Bekkers & Schuyt, 2008). A failure to give has a more negative effect on
the reputation of religious persons than on that of nonreligious persons (Bailey &
Social status. Social status of both the donor and the solicitor enhance the value of
approval. When people are solicited for a donation by a person of higher social status,
they are more likely to give (Jackson & Latané, 1981; Pandey, 1979; Vriens, Scheer,
Hoekstra, & Bult, 1998). One study found that Baptists in the Netherlands donated
more when ministers recommend an offering (Soetevent, 2005). Also when the poten-
tial donor has a higher social status she is more likely to give, probably because the
norm to give is stronger. The expression “noblesse oblige” represents this observa-
tion. The elite are given a special obligation to look after those lower on the status
rank of society. Not giving would endanger one’s elite position (Odendahl, 1990;
Need for social approval. Some individuals may be more sensitive to social approval
for helping, and react more strongly to the observability of a donation (Satow, 1975).
Such individuals are likely to have an altruistic self-image, which will be discussed
below (Mechanism 6).
Overall strength of effect. Reputation has a strong effect on giving. It may easily
overpower effects by other mechanisms. This holds for the costs mechanism, for
instance. When asked for a contribution to a charitable cause by one’s spouse, the
amount requested does not matter (Bekkers, 2004). Spouses also draw each other into
volunteering (Rotolo & Wilson, 2006). One study found reputation to have a stronger
effect than awareness of need. In this study, the effect of reputation in face-to-face
solicitations, even by unknown solicitors, was so strong that it took away the effect of
a picture of beneficiaries. In a direct-mail campaign for the same cause, the picture
increased donations (Thornton et al., 1991).
30 Nonproﬁt and Voluntary Sector Quarterly XX(X)
Mechanism 6. Psychological Benefits. In the discussion of moderators of the other
mechanisms, we have included psychological benefits. From the perspective of the
other mechanisms, psychological benefits enhance the effects of these mechanisms.
Viewed from the perspective of the psychological benefits, one could also say that the
other mechanisms enhance the effects of psychological benefits.
We have not yet discussed the interaction between psychological benefits and solic-
itation. Such an interaction occurs in the foot-in-the-door effect (DeJong, 1981;
Gueguen & Fischer-Lokou, 1999; Pliner, Hart, Kohl, & Saari, 1974; Reingen, 1978;
Rittle, 1981; Seligman, Bush, & Kirsch, 1976; Williams & Williams, 1989). It is
believed that the initial small request creates or activates a self-image of helpfulness,
which creates pressure to behave in a helpful manner on a subsequent occasion. In line
with the self-image explanation, the effect of an initial request is reduced when pay is
offered in return for compliance with the initial request (Zuckerman, Lazzaro, &
Waldgeir, 1979). Another study found that when the first request is too small to acti-
vate a helpful self-image, it does not increase compliance with the second request
(Seligman et al., 1976). However, it should be noted that alternative explanations for
the Foot-in-the-door effect are possible (Kilbourne & Kilbourne, 1984). One alterna-
tive explanation is that the first request heightens awareness of need.
However, the foot in the door-technique does not always work. Brownstein and
Katzev (1985) found that first asking to sign a petition in support of an art institution
did not increase compliance with a subsequent request for a donation for this art institu-
tion. Allison, Messick and Samuelson (1985) found that sending a flyer with a question-
naire actually reduced the amount contributed subsequently. Weyant (1996) found a
negative effect of the foot-in-the-door technique in a door-to-door collection for the
American Cancer Society.
Mechanism 7. Values. Very few studies have tested for moderators in relationships
of values with philanthropy. An exception is Fong (2007), showing that humanitarian-
ism/egalitarianism is only positively related to donations to welfare recipients when
the recipients appeared more worthy of support. Another exception is a recent study of
guilt appeals, showing that feelings of responsibility are increased by the presence of
others who may approve of donations (Basil, Ridgway, & Basil, 2006). Also, a survey
study revealed that contributions to religion are less strongly related to social values
than contributions to other organizations (Bekkers & Schuyt, 2008).
Mechanism 8. Eff icacy. We have not found any experimental studies showing how
effects of efficacy are moderated by other factors. One survey study shows that per-
ceived efficacy is more strongly related to donations to religious causes, international
relief, and domestic public benefit organizations among people with stronger altruistic
values (Bekkers, 2006).
The authors thank the audiences for helpful comments and suggestions. Thanks to various
colleagues who provided articles they could not find and who clarified their findings. They
Bekkers and Wiepking 31
thank the editor and two anonymous referees of NVSQ for useful comments. Thanks to Esra
Dursun and Barry Hoolwerf for research assistance.
A previous version of this article was presented at the 35th Annual Conference of the
Association for Research on Nonprofit and Voluntary Action, November 16-18, 2006, Chicago,
the Civil Society Congress, May 31, 2007, Utrecht, and the WWAV Academy, June 4, 2007,
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect to their authorship or
the publication of this article.[AQ: 1]
The author(s) disclosed that they received the following support for their research and/or
authorship of this article: John Templeton Foundation and Grant No. 451-04-110 of the
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to René Bekkers[AQ: 2]
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René Bekkers is head of research and associate professor at the Department of Philanthropic
Studies at VU University Amsterdam. His research focuses on causes and consequences of the
Pamala Wiepking is an assistant professor at the Department of Philanthropic Studies at the VU
University Amsterdam, Netherlands. Her research is focused on socioeconomic determinants of