Maybe it was a slow news day in philanthropy.
After all I’ve learned about the need to show donors the impact of their giving, the top headline in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s daily email today got my attention: “Giving Donors Data on a Charity’s Impact Doesn’t Always Lead to More Gifts.”
The Chronicle’s post cited a study from a California nonprofit that tested direct mail appeals with and without scientific data on their impact. Donors who had given $100 or more were more likely to give when they received the impact data, but smaller donors were less likely to give again.
The paper was written by Dean Karlan, a Yale economist and founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, and Daniel Wood, an economist at Clemson University. Their evaluation of the test done by Freedom for Hunger led them to believe that larger donors ($100+) were inclined to give more money to fewer charities, so they care more about how the money is used. Those who give smaller amounts are more motivated by the “warm glow” of giving and are more responsive to emotional stories but not data.
Who am I to question two economists published in the smart-sounding Social Science Research Network? (A blogger, that’s who.) Their conclusions are speculative and based on one nonprofit and one tactic (direct mail) in one state. From that, they conclude that $100 is the cutoff point for people who are motivated by emotion and not data?
The Chronicle’s headline irks me more than the study itself. Read the study and decide for yourself. But in the meantime, please don’t stop reporting impact to your donors, large or small.