More Friends on Facebook Tends to Mean Less Money for Charity

People with fewer friends on Facebook raise more money for charity than those with lots of friends, according to a new study.

For her study, Dr. Kimberley Scharf, an economist at the University of Warwick, analyzed data from and found a negative correlation between the number of friends on Facebook and the amount of money given by each donor — with the average contribution by each person dropping by two pence (not quite 3-1/2 cents) for every extra friend someone had on Facebook.

The latest study builds on earlier research by Scharf that found that large social groups are less likely to share information about charitable causes when compared to those who are part of smaller circles. This, she notes, results in less fundraising success.

That research found that “free-riding” was the main driver of the study’s findings. When people are part of a larger social group, they feel less of a need to share information about charities because they expect other friends to share the information, she explained.

Scharf said free-riding also extends to giving. Friends expect other friends to donate, so they don’t bother themselves.

“The problem is that everyone thinks the same thing and therefore the actual amount of money that’s donated is less than it would have been had fewer friends been asked in the first place,” she said.

Scharf also discovered that the amount a person can raise doesn’t only depend on the number of friends they have online. She found that those who complete tougher fundraising activities generate more cash.

“Whilst running is by far the most popular event on JustGiving, it is in fact individuals who complete triathlons that typically attract the largest number of donations and raise the most money in total,” she noted.

“So doing something physically demanding and asking a small group of friends for their support is much more effective than relying on donations from lots of people for what would be perceived as a relatively less exerting activity.”

Scharf notes that her research supports the idea that people are motivated to donate on online sites, such as, because they are driven by “relational warm-glow.”

People are motivated by the idea of helping their friends achieve their fundraising goals, she said, explaining that it makes the fundraiser feel good and this, in turn, makes the people who’ve made the donations feel good.

It is possible that donors have a more intense warm glow experience when the fundraiser exerts more effort, such taking part in a triathlon, she said, adding this could translate into larger donations.

“Giving behavior is largely affected by existing personal relationships, whether it’s friends, family, or work colleagues — these factors are extremely important according to the responses we had from donors,” Scharf said.

Source: University of Warwick