Theory and Decision

, Volume 72, Issue 2, pp 221–243 | Cite as

Reputation and influence in charitable giving: an experiment

  • David ReinsteinEmail author
  • Gerhard Riener


Previous experimental and observational work suggests that people act more generously when they are observed and observe others in social settings. However, the explanation for this is unclear. An individual may want to send a signal of her generosity to improve her own reputation. Alternately (or additionally) she may value the public good or charity itself and, believing that contribution levels are strategic complements, give more to influence others to give more. We perform the first series of laboratory experiments that can separately estimate the impact of these two social effects, and test whether realized influence is consistent with the desire to influence, and whether either of these are consistent with anticipated influence. Our experimental subjects were given the opportunity to contribute from their endowment to Bread for the World, a development NGO. Depending on treatment, “leader” subjects’ donations were reported to other subjects either anonymously or with their identities, and these were reported either before these “follower” subjects made their donation decisions. We find that “leaders” are influential only when their identities are revealed along with their donations, and female leaders are more influential than males. Identified leaders’ predictions suggest that are aware of their influence. They respond to this by giving more than either the control group or the unidentified leaders. We find mixed evidence for “reputation-seeking.”


Charitable giving Experimental design Reputation Influence Peer effects Altruism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of EssexColchesterUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.University of Jena GK EIC and MPI for EconomicsJenaGermany

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