Some bits & bobs about evidence & effectiveness in giving. Updated as & when.
Anonymous giving seems to prompt higher donations from other people. So says this research, in Britain. We’d have expected the opposite, both intuitively and because of this research in the US. (Perhaps yet more evidence, as if it were needed, that giving in the US and the UK are totally dissimilar.)
How to increase giving without cost: lovely paper on RCTs of interventions to get people to give more, which use behavioural insights. For example, when people are writing their will, just saying that ‘many of our clients include charities in their will. Are there any causes which you’re passionate about?’ increased legacies by 200%. Paper contains trials of five such interventions, across workplace-giving, legacies, regular donations and elsewhere. By the UK Cabinet Office.
‘The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know’- Robert M Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Bizarre features of NGOs in Georgia, Moldova & Ukraine: “…because citizens do not know their local NGOs, they are reluctant to contribute time or financial resources. Instead they mostly donate to citizens in need, churches, monasteries, beggars and victims of natural disasters. Donations to NGOs in Moldova are ten times lower than to churches. In Georgia, 83 per cent of NGOs have never received an individual donation… 95 per cent of Georgian NGOs have never received support from local businesses and the situation is similar in Moldova… Only 22 per cent of Ukrainians, 21 per cent of Moldovans and 18 per cent of Georgians say they trust local NGOs”. From How to Finish a Revolution: Civil Society and Democracy in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine
“Ask an important question, answer it reliably, and publish the results promptly, irrespective of the ﬁndings”: good advice for any experiment, from an article in The Lancet about how results of the biggest clinical trial ever were withheld for five years, basically because they were surprising. It’s good advice too for charities and donors thinking about ‘monitoring and evaluation’, much of which addresses questions which aren’t important (e.g., ‘what was our impact’) and uses research too ropey to provide decent answers.
How to design “unreasonably effective” development programmes: this great paper draws on research into psychology and behaviour to show how we sometimes misdiagnose problems and hence design ‘solutions’ which don’t work. Gives several principles which have helped create many more effective programmes. Paper from the Center for Global Development.
How to raise money: behavioural insights. Two studies (RCTs) show that donors give more if: (a) the mail-out includes a pre-filled bank form, and the donor gets a reminder, and (b) the charity cites a major donor who’s already committed.
Why philanthropy is no substitute for tax: Mega-gifts are much flaunted and vaunted in the US. But “of the 50 largest individual gifts to [American] charities in 2012, not a single one went to a social-service organization or to a charity that principally serves the poor. More went to elite prep schools than to any of [the] largest social-service organizations, including United Way, the Salvation Army, and Feeding America (which got, among them, zero).
Underlying our [America’s] charity system—and our tax code—is the premise that individuals will make better decisions regarding social investments than will our representative government. Other developed countries have a very different arrangement…our charity system is fundamentally regressive, and works in favor of the institutions of the elite.” Important article in The Atlantic.
Most charity donations benefit… the rich! Only a third help the poor, and its the donations by (and which support) the rich which get the biggest tax subsidy. Important and strong analysis in Washington Post.
Data quality: The quality of data in charities’ reports to funders is generally pretty poor, found the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. In a study of reports it has received, data in 15% was poor, only 30% was good, and some claims had no evidence at all.
Counterfactuals: “Perhaps my donations (to a Ugandan water project) are simply relieving the government of its obligation to provide water, and allowing it to buy missiles instead”, says a donor. The donor complains that they’ve asked the charity to investigate… though of course they don’t get a good answer from the charity because the incentives are all wrong: you wouldn’t expect independent system analysis from a protagonist.
What to analyse? Psychologists discover that educated American minds are quite different to everybody else’s. They’re much more prone disaggregate a problem, analysing the bits in isolation from each other. Asians (and others) are more holistic. No wonder (a) they have a small state and hence high giving, (b) comparing US giving to that elsewhere is widely misleading, (c) their style of giving is quite different (more flashy etc.) (d) Western minds aren’t good at analysing the whole situation, which is what the Ugandan water donor above was finding, among other things.
How do get people to act on evidence: some lessons from J-PAL‘s work with NGOs, governments and donors on precisely this. In short: it’s hard but possible.