Volunteers are essential for nonprofit organizations, but recruitment and motivation are a major challenge. Before NPOs ask for time and monetary donations, it has been proven in the lab and in the field that gift-giving is an effective method to positively engage potential donors and encourage them to contribute. Christmas cards that are sent without being asked or a small gift that is enclosed with an appeal for donations are examples for this. A more subtle form of flattery, which has been described as the Benjamin-Franklin effect, relies on the opposite: an organization requests a favor in the expectation that this action will cast the organization in a positive light in the person's perception and provide the basis for a larger contribution later. Whether this is an effective method has not been empirically studied yet and is the topic of this study. This paper clarifies by conducting a natural field experiment under which conditions gift-giving versus requesting a favor provides positive effects on the willingness to volunteer for a social cause. We test two different treatments and a control condition. The first treatment is to offer a pure gift (a 10 Euro Amazon voucher for themselves). The second treatment reverses the first, asking for a small favor (passing the voucher to a particular NPO). In both treatments, the other option is always available as outside option. In the control condition, individuals receive neither a gift nor a request. In a second stage, we measure treatments effects on individuals’ willingness to volunteer for the nonprofit organization.
We run the experiment within an ongoing, 365-day long study with originally 900 participants who all aim at improving their physical activity. All those subjects have been positively health screened, are using a smartphone app (ActiVAtE Behavior) to transmit their steps (main performance measure) in a timely manner and have provided extensive individual survey data including socio-demographics, body measures, health goals, motivation, etc.. Furthermore, we have gathered their economic preferences (e.g. competitiveness, social preferences, risk preferences, cheating) using survey-based, incentivized experimental games (e.g. Ultimatum Game, Public Goods Games, Holt-Laury-Lottery, Dictator Game, Coin Toss Game). Besides, we use an incentivized belief elicitation about their previous relative performance. Most of the participants are also equipped with a fitness tracker (medisana ViFit Run) to collect data without carrying their smartphones. The consent forms and data protection concept have been approved by the University of Vechta’s data protection officer. Since participants have been recruited via television and radio within a region with about 1 million inhabitants and there was never an in-person individual or group meeting, people usually do not know each other.