We design a natural field experiment to enhance our understanding of the role of the identifiable victim effect in charitable giving. Using direct mail solicitations to 25797 prior donors of a nonprofit charity, we tested the responsiveness of donors to make a contribution to either an identifiable or a statistical victim. Unlike much previous research, which has used only laboratory experiments, we find that the campaign letter focusing on one identifiable victim did not result in significantly larger donations than the campaign letter focusing on the statistical victim. In addition to the role of the identifiable victim, we investigate the degree to which each of our campaign letters affected donors' payments to other concurrent and future campaigns and whether there is decreasing marginal returns to campaigning in the sense that receiving a letter crowds out donors' payments to other future and concurrent campaigns. We find some evidence of crowding out, indicating that charitable giving could be a zero-sum game; however, the treatment letters did not have different effects on other payments.
Applied Economics, 2014, Vol 46, Issue 36, p. 4409-4430