Finding Excuses to Decline the Ask

by Christine Exley & Ragan Petrie
 
 

Executive Summary — An online experiment by Christine L. Exley and Ragan Petrie involving 6,000 potential donors to animal-rescue charities finds a 22 percent drop in interest in donating when individuals know “the ask” is coming and have time to develop excuses for not contributing. Results imply that nonprofits have a variety of options for better adapting how they solicit funds.

Author Abstract

A growing body of empirical evidence documents a reluctance to give. Individuals avoid donation asks, and when asked, give less by viewing factors—such as ambiguity or risk— in a self-serving manner. This paper considers an environment where the ask is not avoided, and factors that may be viewed self-servingly are neither introduced nor highlighted. Instead, this paper explores whether less prosocial behavior may result from the mere expectation of the ask, or opportunity for individuals to find their own excuses. Our field experiment supports this extension of self-serving or excuse-driven choices: prosocial behavior reduces by 22 percent drop in interest in donating when individuals know “the ask” is coming and when an upcoming ask is expected. Additional results document heterogeneity in such excuse-driven behavior and ways to counter it with information on why to give.

Paper Information