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The Warm-Glow of Giving Increases Charitable Donations

March 22, 2021

Alaska’s Pick.Click.Give program provides an easy way for residents to give a portion of their Permanent Fund Dividend to non-profits and foundations. It also provides a mechanism for economists to study what messages motivate people to give.

Alex James and James Murphy, both professors in UAA’s Department of Economics, conducted a study of how different messages impacted contributions through the Pick.Click.Give program. Co-authors of the study include John List, University of Chicago, and Michael Price, University of Alabama.

In 2014, the researchers sent fundraising postcards to two groups. One version of the postcard read “Warm Your Heart,” appealing to the warm-glow people get when they donate. The other card said “Make Alaska Better for Everyone,” appealing to the desire donors have to help others.

There was a significant difference in response to the postcards. 4.5% more people in the “Warm Your Heart” group contributed through Pick.Click.Give. Additionally, they gave larger amounts than the “Make Alaska Better…” group.

"Our research suggests that part of the reason is that people do it to feel good about themselves,” said James. “By tapping into this motivation, philanthropic organizations can raise more money. But more generally, this paper highlights the benefits of the UAA Economics Department working with other organizations in the state to solve important, real-world problems.”

The study will appear soon in the journal, Nature Human Behavior. It has also been featured in UChicago News.

Read the working paper.