Thursday, September 26, 2019 - 4:30pm
The International Relations Department and the Efron Speaker Series present
All Too Human: How Human Rights NGOs and Their Donors Work Together to Create a Better World...for Themselves
Because human rights nongovernmental organizations (HRNGOs) must respond to financial incentives in order to survive, understanding what motivates donors to make contributions to charity is mandatory for an accurate theory of HRNGO behavior. A large body of research spanning psychology, economics, and biology demonstrates that individuals donate to charity to send a costly signal, conspicuously displaying their socially desirable traits in order to attract and maintain allies and mates. Donations are investments in the donor’s reputation, intended to confer status benefits on the donor rather than to finance the effective production of public benefits. In exchange for donor funds, HRNGOs supply services that have the spirit of benefiting others (e.g. campaigns, reports, protests, boycotts) but ultimately serve to benefit the donor’s reputation by helping the donor appear virtuous. I combine social signaling theory and market competition to develop a new framework for analyzing the behavior of HRNGOs. In this manuscript, I use this new framework to explain why donors are not interested in or responsive to information about charity effectiveness, and I employ a series of preregistered survey experiments to test several theoretical expectations. The findings illuminate why HRNGOs abstain from rigorously evaluating their impact, why they conceal honest information about their impact from donors and other organizations, and why they exaggerate their impact. Put simply, donors reward this deceptive behavior. Because human rights NGOs and their donors are working together to pursue their self-interest, the welfare outcomes of program recipients take a back seat to their more central goals: building reputation, earning social credit, and winning friends and mates.
Thursday, September 26th