Why Do People Volunteer? An Experimental Analysis of Preferences for Time Donations

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2017.2951

Why do individuals volunteer their time even when recipients receive far less value than the donor’s opportunity cost? Previous models of altruism that focus on the overall impact of a gift cannot rationalize this behavior, despite its prevalence. We develop a model that allows for differential warm glow depending on the form of the donation. In a series of laboratory experiments that control for other aspects of volunteering, such as its signaling value, subjects demonstrate behavior consistent with the theoretical assumption that gifts of time produce greater utility than the same transfers in the form of money. Subjects perform an effort task, accruing earnings at potentially different wage rates for themselves or a charity of their choice, with the ability to transfer any of their personal earnings to charity at the end of the experiment. Subjects exhibit strong preferences for donating time even when differential wage rates make it costly to do so. The results provide new insights on the nature of volunteering and gift giving.

Data, the online appendix, and the experimental instructions are available at https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2017.2951.

This paper was accepted by Teck-Hua Ho, behavioral economics.

INFORMS site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some are essential to make our site work; Others help us improve the user experience. By using this site, you consent to the placement of these cookies. Please read our Privacy Statement to learn more.