The Effects of Donor Standing on Philanthropy: Insights from the Psychology of Gift-Giving

65 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2009 Last revised: 9 Mar 2011

See all articles by Reid K. Weisbord

Reid K. Weisbord

Rutgers Law School

Peter DeScioli

Chapman University Economic Science Institute

Date Written: July 16, 2009


Societies have long struggled with contradictions between the ideals of philanthropy and the real motives of philanthropists. Cultural artifacts such as traditional Jewish legal codes and the legend of Saint Nicholas of Myra show that societies especially revere philanthropists who give anonymously, without expectation of repayment. But contrary to these ideals, donors often use philanthropy to obtain personal rewards, such as the wealthy patrons of ancient Greece whose opulent displays of benefactions were aimed at social status and political dominance. The gap between ideals and reality creates a dilemma: Societies wish to promote philanthropy but offering incentives taints the authenticity of the donor’s intent.

This dilemma is central to the recent policy debate about the enforceability of donor-imposed gift restrictions. The law has traditionally allowed donors to pursue their personal charitable goals by imposing restrictions on the use of charitable gifts, but until recently, donors lacked legal standing to enforce their restrictions in court.

In this Article, we describe the detrimental effects of donor enforcement rights on the public’s shared interest in charitable assets. We then investigate the issue of donor standing by reviewing and comparing economic and psychological models of gift-giving behavior. On the basis of research from experimental psychology, we propose the novel hypothesis that, contrary to the intended effect, donor standing is unlikely to promote charitable giving and may cause a decrease in charitable contributions.

Keywords: charitable, trust, nonprofit, donor, standing, experimental psychology

Suggested Citation

Weisbord, Reid K. and DeScioli, Peter, The Effects of Donor Standing on Philanthropy: Insights from the Psychology of Gift-Giving (July 16, 2009). Gonzaga Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 2, January 2010, Available at SSRN:

Reid K. Weisbord (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States


Peter DeScioli

Chapman University Economic Science Institute ( email )

One University Dr.
Orange, CA 92866
United States

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