Follow the crowd: Social information and crowdfunding donations in a large field experiment

Claire van Teunenbroek, Rene Bekkers

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purposely guiding human decision making with a discrete suggestion, ‘nudging’, is increasingly popular. One particularly promising nudge is to provide decision makers with information about the decisions of others, also referred to as social information. Social information is often applied in a charitable context, to increase individual donations. A discrete suggestion such as the donation amount of others can result in donors donating similar amounts. This is described in the social information effect, which generally poses a positive effect. However, the current literature overlooks the restrictions of social
information as a charitable stimulant. The direction and strength of the effect divers between studies. Social information can lower donation amounts
and be costly for practitioners. It is unknown whether social information is always effective during a funding campaign, while practitioners depend on its effect throughout the campaign. Our study is the first one to pinpoint the stage of the funding campaign at which the effect of social information is most
pronounced. We examined it effect in a new context, namely crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a new online fundraising tool, often used by practitioners while the success rate is frightfully low. Our study, based on a large natural field experiment (n= 24,070), tests to what extent social information affects online donation behavior and how its effects vary throughout the duration of a campaign. We show that social information increases the individual donation amount by 16%, which is close to the 14% found in previous studies. However, it did not attract more donors, the participation rate remained unaffected. We
found that social information is most effective in increasing donations at the beginning and end phase of a campaign. This suggests a project period effect; while social information never had a negative effect, it is not an effective stimulant at any time in a campaign.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Behavioral Public Administration
Issue number1
Early online date25 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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