Avoiding the ask: A field experiment on altruism, empathy, and charitable giving

James Andreoni, Justin M Rao, Hannah Trachtman

Research output: Working paper/preprintWorking paper


If people get joy from giving, then why might they avoid fundraisers? We explore this in a randomized natural field experiment during the Salvation Army's annual campaign. The familiar bell-ringers were placed at one or both of two main entrances to a supermarket, making the ask for a charitable donation either easy or difficult to avoid. Additionally, solicitors either simply rang the bell, or asked "please give" to passersby. Verbally asking dramatically increases the number of givers and the amount of giving, as does having solicitors at both main entrances. However, we also found dramatic avoidance of verbal solicitation, between 26.2% and 32.6%, but negligible avoidance of non-verbal solicitation. Asking has a powerful effect on both giving when asked, and on avoidance. We argue that this pattern likely illustrates givers' sophisticated awareness of the empathy-altruism link, rather than pernicious social costs of fundraising.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge, Mass
PublisherNational Bureau of Economic Research
Number of pages1
StatePublished - 2011

Publication series

NameNBER working paper series
PublisherNational Bureau of Economic Research
Volumeno. w17648

Bibliographical note

December 2011.


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