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.