Uncoupling couples-giving


Andrew and Louise Carnegie
Andrew and Louise Carnegie. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Chris Einolf, assistant professor in the School of Public Service, is looking forward to starting work on a recently funded project that promises to illuminate the habits and decision-making dynamics that characterize charitable giving by couples. The project will expand Chris’ previous research and utilize data from the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS) with which he’s already familiar.

“Because nobody’s really done it,” Chris is particularly eager about that part of the project in which 60 Chicago area married or similarly committed couples will be interviewed at length about how they decide what, to whom, and how much they’ll donate to public service charities. He describes couples’ decisions about charitable giving as “basically a black box,” with little research history. The power dynamics behind couples’ decisions to donate time and money to public services nonprofits are important theoretically, as they illustrate issues of self-interest, altruism, and bargaining that interest economists, sociologists, and psychologists, says Chris.

The research also has practical applications. In the second phase of the project, he will interview 30 high net worth donor couples to gather data on the extent of their charitable support. Fundraisers who ask for major donations often hear potential donors say they must confer with their spouses before making a final decision and Chris suspects organizations “would love to know what it is that they’re talking to their spouses about.”

In another applied aspect of the project, Chris will do two rounds of field experiments in which a partnering Chicago social services organization will send out different versions of a fundraising solicitation letter to test hypotheses concerning differing impulses between the charitable giving behavior of  men and women.

Chris is one of 10 young scholars who were awarded two-year grants for $25,000 last September from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University’s initiative on Advancing Knowledge in Human Services Philanthropy and Nonprofit Organizations supported by The Kresge Foundation. The award will release him from summer teaching responsibilities and, supplemented by a $3,5000 grant from DePaul’s University Research Council, support the work of project graduate research assistants. As a pre-tenure scholar terminally degreed within the past seven years, he’ll collaborate with a mentor of his choice, applied microeconomist Eleanor Brown of Pomona College, whose pioneering work on household economics has examined differences in giving between men and women.

The project’s multidisciplinary nature should broaden the potential reach of its conclusions. Chris will write up the theoretical findings for academic audiences and will describe the applied applications for submission to practitioner-oriented publications or in lectures to nonprofit groups.


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