Unobserved Altruism: How Self-Signaling Motivations and Social Benefits Shape Willingness to Donate

53 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2017 Last revised: 10 Dec 2019

See all articles by Jennifer Savary

Jennifer Savary

University of Arizona

Kelly Goldsmith

Vanderbilt University - Marketing

Date Written: December 9, 2019

Abstract

Public recognition is usually thought to motivate charitable giving. However, the current research identifies an important context in which the opposite occurs. We examine commonplace donation decisions involving modest amounts of money, which either take place in private, or are observed by others. We find robust evidence that public recognition can decrease donation likelihood. Further, we demonstrate that this effect operates through a self-signaling mechanism: public recognition creates ambiguity about whether the choice to donate is motivated by genuine altruism or the desire for recognition. As a result, public recognition can crowd-out, or undermine, the self-signal of altruism, which in turn decreases donation rates. Finally, we test an important theoretical boundary, and show that when the social benefits associated with public recognition for donating are sufficiently valuable, the negative effects of public recognition attenuate.

Keywords: charitable giving, donations, altruism, self-interest, crowding out, self-signaling, social signaling

Suggested Citation

Savary, Jennifer and Goldsmith, Kelly, Unobserved Altruism: How Self-Signaling Motivations and Social Benefits Shape Willingness to Donate (December 9, 2019). Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management Research Paper No. 3026475, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3026475 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3026475

Jennifer Savary

University of Arizona ( email )

Marketing Department
Eller College of Management
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

Kelly Goldsmith (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Marketing ( email )

Nashville, TN 37203
United States

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