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September 2018: Takeaways from the Science of Philanthropy Initiative Conference

By Amelia Aldred

Happy fall!  This month The Philanthropologist features a short review of the Science of Philanthropy Initiative (SPI) conference.

The Science of Philanthropy Initiative (SPI) is an academic research and outreach project that utilizes quantitative methods and partnerships with the philanthropic community to explore the motivations behind charitable giving.

Currently, the SPI conference is focused on academic presentations by economists, psychologists, and sociologists. The majority of the research presented at the 2018 and the 2017 conference addressed individual giving behavior or annual fund level giving.

One of the challenges facing nonprofits and academic researchers who study philanthropy is the disconnect between research and practice–which means that nonprofits lose out on potentially helpful insights and scholars lack data and context to create applicable research. The SPI conference organizers have expressed interest in connecting fundraising practitioners to academic researchers; this year the conference featured a lunch panel of prospect development professionals, moderated by Amelia Aldred (University of Chicago).

Highlights from the conference:

Conference paper by Ragan Petrie (Texas A&M University): “Optimal Incentives to Give”

Dr. Petrie conducted a field experiment on matched gifts in partnership with a private foundation and 26 Chicago nonprofits.  It is a common fundraising practice to solicit a foundation or individual to match gifts at specific thresholds during a fundraising drive.  For instance, a foundation might give a gift of $25 for every donation between $25-$49 and a give a gift of $50 for every gift between $50-$99.  The researchers and nonprofits were interested in comparing the amount of money used for matching gifts (i.e. how much did the foundation from the previous example spend when matching gifts) to the total amount raised.

The experiment analyzed the giving of over 120,000 unique supporters in response to a mass-mailing solicitation.  Supporters received solicitations with randomly assigned three variable threshold amounts for matched gifts.  For example, Supporter A received a letter that stated there will be a $25 match for gifts between $25-$99 a $100 match for gifts between $100-$149, and a $150 match for gifts between $150-$200 whereas Supporter B received a letter that stated that there will be $150 match for gifts between $150-$199, a $200 match for gifts between $200-$299 ,and a $300 match for gifts between $300-$399.*

Giving data from the experiment indicated that donors “bunch” at the matching giving thresholds and that nonprofits raise more money overall when they set the matching thresholds high.  This is data is helpful to nonprofits considering how to structure their matched giving drives for maximum dollars raised.

Conference paper by Danielle Vance-McMullen (University of Memphis): “Does Giving Tuesday Lift or Shift Year-End Chaitable Giving? A Survey Experiment”

Dr. Vance-McMullen conducted a multi-wave survey to test the effects of time-limited multi-organizational giving days (such as Giving Tuesday) on later donations to nonprofits.  Nonprofits

The research team set up an online survey to simulate Giving Tuesday, in which respondents could give to multiple nonprofits during a limited time span, then were presented with the opportunity to give again a later time.

The survey data indicated that simultaneous solicitation lifts overall giving and does not seem to shift giving away from later solicitations–however the only certain organizations received significant benefit from the “Giving Tuesday” solicitation.  The majority of organizations which received the most benefit were large, well-known nonprofits.  This data is helpful to nonprofits considering if and how to participate in Giving Tuesday style fundraising drives.

*these thresholds are used to illustrate the method of the experiment, they are not the thresholds used in the actual project.

Are you interested in culture and philanthropy?  Would you like to share your knowledge on The Philanthropologist?  If so, we invite you to get in contact!

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