When the relatively poor prosper: the underdog effect on charitable donations

Alex Bradley, Claire Lawrence, Eamonn Ferguson

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In fundraising, it is common for the donor to see how much a charity has received so far. What is the impact of this information on (a) how much people choose to donate and (b) which charity they choose to donate to? Conditional cooperation suggests that people will donate to the charity that has received the most prior support, while the Underdog Effect suggests increased donations to the charity with the least support. Across two laboratory experiments, an online study (combined N = 494) and a qualitative survey (N = 60), a consistent preference to donate to the charity with the least prior support was observed. Thus, the Underdog Effect was supported. We suggest people will show a preference for the underdog if there are two or more charities to donate to, one of the charities is at a disadvantage, and people have little preexisting loyalty to either charity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-127
Number of pages20
JournalNonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
Issue number1
Early online date17 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • social information
  • chariatble donations
  • underdog effect
  • conditional cooperation effect
  • impact philanthropy


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