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What Not to Say When Asking for Donations: How the Content of Requests Affects Participation


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Principal Investigator(s):

Adam Levine
Cornell University
Email:ASL22@cornell.edu
Home page: http://falcon.arts.cornell.edu/asl22/Home.html

Sample size: 1000
Field period: 5/22/2009-9/10/2009

 

Abstract:

Participating in politics involves spending scarce resources of money and/or time. Everyone has limited monetary and temporal budgets, and the goal of any recruitment effort is to persuade people to spend some of their scarce resources on politics. Often, requests attempt to do so by mentioning issues that people care about. In this study I clarify the impact of this strategy on people's participation decisions. A tension arises because many issues that people care about remind them of budgetary constraints. Mentioning these issues in requests can reduce people's willingness to participate by making it difficult to justify spending scarce resources on politics. For example, people who receive donation requests mentioning issues that are important, but that remind them of financial constraints, are less willing to donate than those who receive requests not mentioning such issues. Yet, because people do not treat time and money interchangeably, these very same people will not be less willing to donate time. The results have implications for who expresses their voice in the American political process. Citizens who care about issues related to budgetary constraints – for example, those who face job losses – will be inherently disadvantaged. The results also show how the act of being mobilized can exacerbate, rather than mitigate, participatory inequalities.

Hypotheses:

Mentioning issues that people find important, yet that remind them of financial constraints, decreases their willingness to donate money.

Mentioning issues that people find important, and do not remind them of financial constraints, increases their willingness to donate money.

Mentioning issues that people find important, yet that remind them of financial constraints, will have divergent effects on people's willingness to donate money versus volunteer time.

Experimental Manipulation:

There were two factors: the information that people received about a real political organization, and the participation opportunity that they had. Subjects received one of three pieces of information about a real political organization: a general piece of information, a general piece of information plus information about an issue that reminded them of personal financial constraints, or a general piece of information plus information about an issue that did not remind them of personal financial constraints. In addition, subjects were given the opportunity either to donate real money to the organization or to volunteer their time (in the form of signing up for a listserv to hear about volunteer opportunities with the organization).

Key Dependent Variables:

For half of the subjects, the outcome variable is the amount of money they donated. For the other half of subjects, the outcome variable is whether they chose to sign up for the listserv to hear about volunteer opportunities.

Summary of Findings:

The results support the hypotheses. Requests that mentioned important issues, but that also reminded people of financial constraints, reduced their willingness to donate money. Requests that mentioned important issues, but that did not remind them of financial constraints, increased their willingness to donate money. The same pattern did not occur when subjects were asked to volunteer their time.

References:

Levine, Adam. 2010. Strategic Solicitations: Explaining When Requests for Political Donations are Persuasive. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Political Science, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.


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