The Impact of a Surprise Donation Ask

39 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2016 Last revised: 21 Dec 2017

See all articles by Christine Exley

Christine Exley

Harvard Business School

Ragan Petrie

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics; University of Melbourne - Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research

Date Written: December 18, 2017

Abstract

Individuals frequently exploit “flexibility" built into decision environments to give less. They use subjectivity to justify options benefiting themselves over others, they avoid information that may encourage them to give, and they avoid the ask itself. In this paper, we examine whether a reluctance to give may arise even when such explicit flexibility is absent. We investigate whether merely alerting individuals to an upcoming prosocial ask ― that is neither avoided nor contains subjective components ― results in reduced prosocial behavior. That is, we investigate whether individuals use time to quickly find or develop their own flexibility and excuses not to give. Results from a field study and complementary online study provide a clear answer: yes.

Keywords: charitable giving, prosocial behavior, self-serving biases, excuses

JEL Classification: D64, C93

Suggested Citation

Exley, Christine and Petrie, Ragan, The Impact of a Surprise Donation Ask (December 18, 2017). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 16-101. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2743207 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2743207

Christine Exley (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Ragan Petrie

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics ( email )

4228 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-4228
United States

University of Melbourne - Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research ( email )

Level 5, FBE Building, 111 Barry Street
Parkville, Victoria 3010
Australia

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