Some Users Hit ‘Delete’ After Pledging Charitable Donations Online, Johns Hopkins Study Shows

Share Article

A new study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University suggests that such campaigns can draw the attention of social media users but not always their commitment to donate money.

Do charitable campaigns conducted on social media platforms actually “click” with the public? A new study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School suggests that such campaigns can draw the attention of social media users but not always their commitment to donate money.

Published in the March 2016 issue of the journal Sociological Science, the paper is based on data from HelpAttack!, a social media application that facilitates donations while broadcasting donors’ activities to their contacts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The researchers also went online to conduct an experiment and a survey as part of the study.

“While we found that broadcasting is positively associated with donations, some individuals appeared to broadcast a pledge and then delete it,” says Assistant Professor Angelo Mele of the Carey Business School, a co-author along with Assistant Professor Mario Macis, also of the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins, and Associate Professor Nicola Lacetera of the University of Toronto.

From a sample of nearly 3,500 pledges made via HelpAttack! to organizations such as the American Red Cross, Best Friends Animal Society, and Homes for Our Troops, 64 percent were fulfilled, 13 percent were partially fulfilled, and 16 percent were deleted. The proportion of deleted pledges was seen to be higher among users who had broadcast their pledges on a social media platform.

In the online experiment, the researchers used Facebook ads and other methods to encourage users to donate to the charity Heifer International. Reaching 6.4 million Facebook users and generating many "likes" and "shares," the campaign nonetheless reaped only 30 donations.

Then, in the survey, participants were asked if they would give half of a hypothetical $10 to charity. About 35 percent said yes, though the pledged figure decreased when the possibilities of a third-party processor and a processing fee were added to the question.

The findings are consistent with a phenomenon previous researchers have referred to as “slacktivism” or “illusion of activism,” the co-authors state.

““In spite of all the hype, it’s actually quite hard for lesser-known charities to raise funds online. What our findings indicate is that many people may regard online social networks as basically free platforms for personal exchange and much less as vehicles for an activity that comes at some cost to them, whether that cost is of money or time,” Macis explains. “In more traditional forms of activism, participants make a tangible contribution. Online platforms, in contrast, provide opportunities for activism that may consist of nearly costless actions.”

A more broad point about charitable giving is implied in the study, the co-authors add. Namely, one’s charitable giving may be motivated by concerns about one’s desire to feel good about oneself and/or to be positively perceived by other people.

The study, “Viral Altruism? Charitable Giving and Social Contagion in Online Networks,” was supported financially by the NET Institute and the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Dean’s Grant.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Timothy Parsons

Patrick Ercolano
Visit website