Seeing is Giving: Increased Church Offerings

Since it's Sunday and a week since I last blogged (forgive me Father, for I have sinned...), I thought I would keep on the church theme. No nunchuks this week (not even this kind), but I did want to share a study on how money is collected in churches can affect giving.

Economist Adriaan Soetevent collected data from 30 different Baptist churches in the Netherlands. The churches usually use closed collection bags (left) but, for 29 weeks, half of the churches were randomly chosen to replace the closed bags with open baskets (right). With the baskets, neighbors can observe each other 's contributions and churchgoers can also see the total amount of money already donated.
These churches generally have two offerings. The first offering is to collect money for internal needs of the church and the second offering is for an external cause. The study found that contributions to the second offering with an external cause initially increase by 10% when baskets are used, but this effect peters out over time. No effect was found for offerings with an internal cause. What's cool is that Soetevent even factored in variables like music and sun so that he could control for 'good mood' effect.

Also interesting was that three churches provided detailed information on the coins that were collected in each offering. When baskets were used, the portion of small coins (up to 20 eurocent) declines as churchgoers shift to giving larger coins (1 and 2 euro). People don't like to be seen giving small coins. We are all probably familiar with this feeling evoked by the coffee shop tip jar.

Soetevent, A.R. 2005. Anonymity in giving in a natural context -- a field experiment in 30 churches. Journal of Public Economics 89:2301-2323.

More like this

For his documentary Root of All Evil?, Richard Dawkins was granted inside access to Ted Haggard's Colorado Springs mega-church, and he sits down for an interview with Haggard. "This place strains belief. It isn't just a church, but an organized social network," comments Dawkins upon walking into…
Apparently, the easiest way to reduce the percentage of churchgoers is to allow retail activity on Sundays. In this recently published paper on NBER, economists Jonathan Gruber and Daniel Hungerman examined the effect of repealing "blue laws" on church attendance in the sixteen states that have…
George Clinton (I really hope it was the George Clinton) emailed me with this link to a story about anti-gay bigots in Latvia. The city of Riga refused to issue a permit for a gay pride parade, but that wasn't good enough for these cretins. They couldn't even let a group of gay rights activists…
This is a follow to the previous post focusing on which demographics know scientific facts. One of the major differences was between those who were very religious and those who were not, with more scientific literacy among the latter. Inductivist looks into the question that many have asked: ...I…

I had a similar experience when I was a street performer. Though I did have one further concern to deal with, if the basket, (in my case a hat) was too shallow, people would actually reach in an take stuff out. As far as the denominations went, I had one tool that most churches don't have, which was to publicly embarrass the people who tried to put pennies in the hat.

In my case, I have witnessed like this many times already. It is not necessary that we should give big amount as long as it came from the heart. I really appreciate those who give less but heartily offered than those who give big amounts but not from the heart.