Punished for Doing Good: Heuristic-Based Judgement and the Contingent Returns to Company Philanthropy Under High Uncertainty
53 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2021
Date Written: September 7, 2021
Companies donating in the aftermath of large-scale disasters often suffer public backlash and managers systematically fail to understand what corresponds to a donation that stakeholders perceive as contextually appropriate. We attribute this to the level of uncertainty that obscures the relative social value of a donation because accurate information about impacts is not available for months. We argue that stakeholders rely on a company's pre-disaster reputation as a heuristic to make judgments of its philanthropy. Thus, regardless of the amount of aid given, well-regarded firms obtain rents from responding first to a disaster, and this spills over to companies in the same industry that match their donations; the opposite applies to firms with an unfavorable reputation, and to those that imitate their gifts. Analyses of donations by the largest 2,000 companies worldwide to every major epidemic, natural disaster, and terrorist attack from 2007 to 2019 support this argument and show that this heuristic effect does not transfer to firms donating different amounts. The estimates survive a battery of time-varying and joint fixed effects and tests of confounders. They confirm that reputation is a stronger rent determinant than donation amount. We discuss ways to improve managerial philanthropic decisions in similar settings.
Keywords: company philanthropy, reputation, disasters, heuristics, corporate social responsibility
JEL Classification: D22, D64, L14, L22, M14
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