The Impact of Social Pressure on Charitable Giving in the United States

Last registered on November 18, 2016


Trial Information

General Information

The Impact of Social Pressure on Charitable Giving in the United States
Initial registration date
November 18, 2016

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
November 18, 2016, 11:46 PM EST

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


Primary Investigator

UC Berkeley

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Chicago
PI Affiliation
University of California, Berkeley

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Every year, 90% of Americans give money to charities. Is such generosity
necessarily welfare enhancing for the giver? We present a theoretical framework that distinguishes two types of motivation: individuals like to give, for example, due to altruism or warm glow, and individuals would rather not give but dislike saying no, for example, due to social pressure. We design a door-to-door fundraiser in which some households are informed about the exact time of solicitation with a flyer on their doorknobs. Thus, they can seek or avoid the fund-raiser. We find that the flyer reduces the share of households opening the door by 9% to 25% and, if the flyer allows checking a Do Not Disturb box, reduces giving by 28% to 42%. The latter decrease is concentrated among donations smaller than $10. These findings suggest that social pressure is an important determinant of door-to-door giving. Combining data from this and a complementary field experiment, we structurally estimate the model. The estimated social pressure cost of saying no to a solicitor is $3.80 for an in-state charity and $1.40 for an out-of-state charity. Our welfare calculations suggest that our door-to-door fund-raising campaigns on average lower the utility of the potential donors.

A secondary analysis of the data, by DellaVigna, List, Malmendier and Rao (2013) uses the door-to-door fund-raising campaign and survey to estimate the distribution of social preferences by gender. This study uncovers an important relationship between gender and giving patterns: there are gender differences in social preferences, but it is important to go beyond considering differences in means - important gender differences may be at the margin. This leads women to give more in certain situations, but not in others, and also to be more sensitive to social cues. Differentiating by gender reveals a novel explanation for seemingly contradictory findings in previous literature.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

DellaVigna, Stefano, John A. List and Ulrike Malmendier. 2016. "The Impact of Social Pressure on Charitable Giving in the United States." AEA RCT Registry. November 18.
Former Citation
DellaVigna, Stefano, John A. List and Ulrike Malmendier. 2016. "The Impact of Social Pressure on Charitable Giving in the United States." AEA RCT Registry. November 18.
Experimental Details


No flyer treatment: Solicitors knock on the door and, if they reach a person, they inform the household about the charity, ask if they are willing to make a donation, and if they receive a gift leave a receipt.

Flyer treatment: The solicitor's script is identical to the no-flyer, but in addition a different solicitor leaves a flyer on the doorknob on the day before the solicitation. The professionally prepared flyer indicates the time of the upcoming fund-raising (or survey) visit within a one-hour time interval.

Opt-out treatment: The flyer has a box "Check this box if you do not want to be disturbed." If the solicitors find the box checked, they do not knock on the door.

Survey treatment: The solicitor inquires whether the household member is willing to respond to survey questions about charitable giving. The solicitor informs the household member about the duration of the survey (5 or 10 minutes) and about the payment for completing the survey, if any ($10, $5, or none).
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Answering the door, Checking the opt-out box, Amount of giving, Unconditional giving, Conditional giving
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Researchers dissect the outcomes to test the effects of altruism versus social pressure on charitable giving.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Between April and October 2008, researchers approached 7,668 households in the towns surrounding Chicago. A crucial aspect of the experimental design was to allow individuals to either seek or avoid the solicitor. In the first treatment, a flyer on the doorknob notifies households one day in advance about the one-hour time interval in which a solicitor will arrive at their homes the next day. In the second treatment, opt-out, the flyer also includes a box to be checked if the household does not want to be disturbed. These two conditions are compared to a baseline treatment, wherein solicitors approach households in the usual manner without a flyer. Treatment effects are estimated for both the share of households that open the door and the share that give. This design allows for a simple test of (pure or impure) altruism versus social pressure in door-to-door giving.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomized using Microsoft Excel.
Randomization Unit
Street level
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Each solicitor planned to visit an assigned a list of around 25 households per hour on a given street, for a daily workload of either 4 hours or 6 hours.
Sample size: planned number of observations
21,518 households.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Survey treatment (2008): 2,018 households.
Survey treatment (2009): 10,594 households.
No-flyer treatment: 3,562 households.
Flyer treatment: 3,117 households.
Opt-out treatment: 2,227 households.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
University of Chicago
IRB Approval Date
Details not available
IRB Approval Number
Details not available


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
November 30, 2009, 12:00 +00:00
Data Collection Complete
Data Collection Completion Date
November 30, 2009, 12:00 +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
19,568 households.
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
Survey treatment (2008): 1,865 households. Survey treatment (2009): 10,035 households. No-flyer treatment: 3,166 households. Flyer treatment: 3,432 households. Opt-out treatment: 1,070 households.
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Testing for Altruism and Social Pressure in Charitable Giving
DellaVigna, Stefano, John List, and Ulrike Malmendier. 2012. "Testing for Altruism and Social Pressure in Charitable Giving." Quarterly Journal of Economics 127(1): 1-56.
The Importance of Being Marginal: Gender Differences in Generosity
DellaVigna, Stefano, John List, Ulrike Malmendier and Gautam Rao. 2013. "The Importance of Being Marginal: Gender Differences in Generosity." American Economic Review 103(3): 586-90.

Reports & Other Materials