Ever wondered why so many charitable campaigns often lack contextual information on their aid recipients? Well, it turns out charitable groups might just be responding to some of their contributors’ need for as little information as possible, the result of which are the often simplistic silly campaigns to help starving people in nameless war-torn countries in the developing world.
According to Karlan and Wood in a paper on donor responses to information on aid effectiveness (it is a direct mail experiment):
We test how donors respond to new information about a charity’s effectiveness. Freedom from Hunger implemented a test of its direct marketing solicitations, varying letters by whether they include a discussion of their program’s impact as measured by scientific research. The base script, used for both treatment and control, included a standard qualitative story about an individual beneficiary. Adding scientific impact information has no effect on whether someone donates, or how much, in the full sample. However, we find that amongst recent prior donors (those we posit more likely to open the mail and thus notice the treatment), large prior donors increase the likelihood of giving in response to information on aid effectiveness, whereas small prior donors decrease their giving. We motivate the analysis and experiment with a theoretical model that highlights two predictions. First, larger gift amounts, holding education and income constant, is a proxy for altruism giving (as it is associated with giving more to fewer charities) versus warm glow giving (giving less to more charities). Second, those motivated by altruism will respond positively to appeals based on evidence, whereas those motivated by warm glow may respond negatively to appeals based on evidence as it turns off the emotional trigger for giving, or highlights uncertainty in aid effectiveness.
They also add that:
Our finding that smaller prior donors respond to information on charitable effectiveness by donating less frequently and in smaller amounts is consistent with other research showing that emotional impulses for giving shut down in the presence of analytical information. Indeed, controlled laboratory experiments have produced insights that suggest that emotionally triggered generosity may be dampened by appeals that include statistical or deliberative information. For example, people donate less to feed a malnourished child when statistics that put this child in the larger context of famine in Africa are mentioned.
H/T Marginal Revolution.