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(Pro-) social networks?

10th Feb 2014

Our findings from charitable giving experiments suggest that online social networks could be a hotbed for snowballing donations. Here, users can advertise their donation activities and the quality of their chosen charities cheaply and directly to their friends.

The personalisation of these messages could add weight to the fundraiser’s solicitation and make them far more successful than public messages.

In a recent experiment testing online donation behaviour using Facebook, however, Marco Castillo et al discovered evidence of a general reluctance to engage in personalised fundraising. They found that public messages about donations were far more effective than those sent personally.

In their trial, donors who gave online were asked to share with their friends the fact that they donated – either by posting it on their own wall or by sending a private message to a friend. These messages included a link to the charity’s page and encouraged the recipient(s) to donate.

The authors found that donors were much more willing to post wall messages (14% of them did) than personal messages (8.4%) when asked. Furthermore, they found that public wall messages were much more effective at soliciting further donations from friends than personal ones (1.89% versus 0%).

Whether these findings are suggestive of the negative effects of peer-pressure or the positive effects of publicly communicating one’s virtuous behaviours via wall-postings is not conclusive. The fundraising implication for charities on Facebook is clear however: encourage people to shout about their donation – not whisper.

Castillo, M., Petrie, R. and Wardell, C., 2013, “Fundraising through online social networks: a field experiment on peer-to-peer solicitation”, Journal of Public Economics.