Charitable Giving

Imagine if nonprofits could better understand how their donors make decisions or if donors focused their giving on the most impactful organizations.

Domain Statement

Today’s charitable giving landscape is plagued by frictions and informational inefficiency. Many individuals express a desire to give, yet fail to follow through on their giving intentions. They further face a variety of frictions in evaluating which organizations make the best use of funds. As a result, charitable organizations face little external pressure to improve efficiency and measure impact.

Through our research projects and collaborations, we are working to improve the effectiveness of charitable giving by providing charities with stronger incentives to evaluate impact and improve efficiency, and motivating donors to give.

Project Abstracts

Read about some of the charitable giving research projects the lab is working on.

Learning How to Incentivize Giving

With a financial technology firm and ImpactMatters, this project is identifying approaches to increase contributions to charitable organizations. Lab researchers are analyzing donation data to understand consumer behavior and motivations around charitable giving, and designing experiments to expose consumers to giving opportunities during electronic commerce. The experiments will guide strategies to motivate consumers to increase their giving and direct their giving to impactful organizations.

Adaptive & Iterative Experimentation, Social Sciences & Behavioral Nudges, AI & Machine Learning

Testing Efficacy of Personalized Approaches to Encourage Charitable Donations

Lab researchers are using adaptive experimentation to test the efficacy of personalized approaches to encourage charitable donations. Algorithms are utilized to choose which questions to ask a user about their interests; different options are then offered based on the users’ answers. In addition, the research is also establishing best-practices of using experiments to consider how people use tools to make donations, focusing on how to optimize the experimental design to learn how to target interventions to users’ characteristics.

Adaptive & Iterative Experimentation, Social Sciences & Behavioral Nudges

Academic Publications

Publication Search

Thought Leadership

University of Pennsylvania, Wharton

Susan Athey shares how to apply machine learning in behavioral science experiments and use those applications in social impact organizations, especially designing for heterogeneous treatment effects in experiments. She highlights a specific project with a fintech company identifying approaches to increase contributions to charitable organizations.

The Washington Post

Our economy runs on mutual interdependence. As we spend time in self-isolation, let’s think about all the people who depend on us to make a living: the Lyft driver, the dry cleaner, the child-care provider, the barista at the coffee shop.


Philanthropy helps solve social problems. But it needs to do more; rethink all its basics: its organizational model; its decision-making processes; its true intentions, its focus.