The Power of Matching Donations

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In a study conducted with Lalin Anik and Dan Ariely of Duke University, social norms were used to incentivize employees to give money to charity. Results were published in the paper Contingent Match Incentives Increase Donations.

In the study, the researchers told a set of contributors to a charitable giving website that their donations would be matched by the charity, but only if a certain percentage of contributors that day either 25, 50, 75, or 100 percent – “upgraded” to a recurring monthly donation. They found that the contributors in the “75 percent” condition contributed at a much higher rate than the other three groups, with as much as a 40 percent increase in committing to recurring donations.

Norton speculates that the higher number is due to a desire to conform to the social norms of other contributors – and not be the cause for the charity to deny matching funds. “No one wants to be the chump that spoils it for everyone else,” Norton says. In other research, that 70-75 percent threshold seems to be the point that has the biggest effect on on behavior – any higher and people may feel like the result is unattainable. The research also shows that the number doesn’t have to correspond to actual rates of participation. Just setting that goal institutes a standard that other people will strive to match.

To read more visit to read Michael Blanding’s article here.