The Chronicle of Philanthropy pointed to a report by The Economist on research showing that public recognition may motivate donors to give bigger gifts.

Dan Ariely of Duke University, Anat Bracha of Tel Aviv University, and Stephan Meier of Columbia University sought, through experiments, to test the importance of image motivation, as well as to gain insights into how different motivating factors interact. Their results, which they report in a new paper, suggest that image motivation matters a lot, at least in the laboratory.

I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the conclusions drawn here. It seems to suggest nonprofits should do more public exposure of gifts to get donors to give more. It feels downright manipulative.

I’m a purist and would love to believe that donors give altruistically. But even I check donor lists to see where my name lines up with people I know. And as fundraisers, I think it’s important to keep informed on this research and keep wrestling with how it should or shouldn’t impact our work.

Would you help me? Read the article and read “What Makes People Give?” in last March’s New York Times. (The NYT’s piece is quite long but good.)

Then use the comments section here to let me know what you think.

  • Is this research helpful or does it harm our field?
  • Will it lead to donor manipulation?
  • Or will it simply help us care for the friends of our nonprofits more in keeping with how they really want to be cared for?
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