Study Might Lead Door-to-Door Canvassers to Continue to Sneak Up on Potential Donors

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January 18, 2011; Source: The Quarterly Journal of Economics | The Quarterly Journal of Economicsrecently published a study titled “Testing for Altruism and Social Pressure in Charitable Giving.” We may be dense, but we cannot see how the study adds to what we already know.

Here is how the study was designed: A door-to-door fundraiser was planned in which some households were informed about the exact time that a fund-raiser would come by with a flyer on their doorknobs, allowing them to meet or avoid the fund-raiser. Here is the result: “We find that the flyer reduces the share of households opening the door by 9 percent to 25 percent and, if the flyer allows checking a Do Not Disturb box, reduces giving by 28 percent to 42 percent… These findings suggest that social pressure is an important determinant of door-to-door giving.”

We take this to mean that if you are doing door-to-door canvassing, you will net more per outing if you can sneak up on the potential donor. Here is what we think: people do not especially enjoy being confronted by a stranger who is soliciting them. That is why the importance of “the relationship” is so stressed in fundraising. And we also believe that, because it is awkward to be asked by a stranger, people will avoid the occasion—especially if they are busy watching a rerun of “Real Housewives” after a brutal day at work.

Those that are willing to answer the door even if they got a flyer first are likely already motivated. With advance notice, we ourselves are skeptical that we would answer the door unless we really wished to give to the charity anyway. If, through some oversight, we did answer the door, we would feel so damn sorry for the poor person who had to ask complete strangers for money that we would probably give them a little something. Is there something else we need to know about all this? Anyway, I am sure that I missed the point here and I would appreciate someone helping me out.—Ruth McCambridge