How do you get more people to volunteer for good causes?

Using longitudinal data on the entire population of blood donors in an Italian town, we examine how donors respond to a nonlinear award scheme that rewards them with symbolic prizes (medals) when they reach certain donation quotas. Our results indicate that donors significantly increase the frequency of their donations immediately before reaching the thresholds for which the rewards are given, but only if the prizes are publicly announced in the local newspaper and awarded in a public ceremony. The results are robust to several specifications, sample definitions, and controls for observable and unobservable heterogeneity. Our findings indicate that social image concerns are a primary motivator of prosocial behavior and that symbolic prizes are most effective as motivators when they are awarded publicly. We discuss the implications of our findings for policies aimed at incentivizing prosocial behavior.

Source: “Social Image Concerns and Prosocial Behavior: Field Evidence from a Nonlinear Incentive Scheme” from Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Vol. 76, No. 2, 2010 

And how do you keep them working once they’ve started?

We study the effect of the social environment on the quantity and quality of voluntary labor contributions. By extending Benabou and Tirole’s (2006) image signaling framework, we derive theoretical predictions on time volunteered given (1) the availability of excuses to stop volunteering and (2) the presence of an authority figure. We test these predictions in an experiment where laboratory subjects are directly involved in a local nonprofit operation. We find that in the absence of excuses to stop volunteering, subjects volunteer longer without working less productively. This increase is partially driven by subjects’ reluctance to be the first to stop volunteering. The presence of an authority figure has little impact, but the presence of peers has a positive and significant impact.

Source: “No excuses for good behavior: Volunteering and the social environment” from Journal of Public Economics

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