Episode 15: Reciprocity Decays Over Time
Fresh Research podcast
Episode 15: “Field study of charitable giving reveals that reciprocity decays over time”

Waiting a month to ask for a gift decreases the likelihood of a donation by 30 percent. That’s according to research on positive reciprocity that looked at more than 18,000 donation solicitations by a university hospital system.

“Field study of charitable giving reveals that reciprocity decays over time” was published by Judd Kessler, associate professor of business economics and public policy at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Co-authors were Amanda Chuan, now an assistant professor at Michigan State University, and Katherine Milkman, also of Wharton.

In this episode of Fresh Research, Kessler talks about the details of the paper, which examined donation requests made by the hospital system via email to a set of former patients in the fourth months after their first hospital visit. An extra 30-day delay between the “provision of medical care and a donation solicitation” decreases the likelihood of a donation by 30 percent. They used donation solicitation data on adult outpatients who visited the hospital system between May 2013 and April 2015.

“Donation rates decline as the time separating a patient’s hospital visit and solicitation increases,” according to the study. “It shows that the percentage of patients who donate decreases considerably (from almost 1.5 percent to 0.4 percent) as the time delay separating the visit from a solicitation increases. This decline over time holds for both the first and last presolicitation hospital visits.”

Judd Kessler

Anytime there’s the possibility that an organization has provided something that a potential donor values, this “kind of psychology could kick in,” Kessler said. “The research is relevant to settings beyond hospitals asking former patients for donations. We see applications of the research to schools that provide you with an education, then later on solicit you for funds. Religious organizations that will provide a variety of services and ask for donations as well. Humane societies, disaster relief organizations, and also cultural institutions. If you enjoy a museum or an opera, you might feel reciprocal and be more likely to give in the weeks or months after those visits.”