UW-Madison: Partners in $5 million grant to study philanthropy


CONTACT: Anya Samak, 608-262-5498, asamak@wisc.edu

MADISON – The Science of Philanthropy Initiative (SPI), a collaboration of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Chicago and Georgia State University, has received a $5 million grant that will be used to explore the motives of philanthropy and lead to new development strategies.

SPI will use the grant, provided by the John Templeton Foundation, to continue its work using theory and experimental methodology to deepen understanding of the social preferences that shape philanthropic giving and to apply this knowledge for practitioners and policymakers.

“SPI’s approach echoes the approach of our other key projects,” says UW-Madison School of Human Ecology Dean Soyeon Shim. “SPI employs a team approach and incorporates strategic partnerships with the fundraising community, individual donors, charitable organizations and policymakers.”

John List, Homer J. Livingston Professor of Economics at UChicago, leads SPI. The research team includes co-investigator Anya Samak, an assistant professor of consumer science at the UW, co-investigator Jean Decety, Irving B. Harris Professor in psychology and psychiatry at UChicago, and consultant Michael Price, associate professor of economics at Georgia State.

“In this era of tight federal and state resources, philanthropy is more important than ever in meeting societal needs, preserving community services and expanding public outreach and engagement,” Samak says. “Even in the recent recession, donors gave more than $303 billion to U.S. philanthropic organizations in 2009. Yet these organizations often lack hard data on giving and rely on rules of thumb while spending $2 billion on development activities annually.”

Samak uses the methodology of experimental economics to explore behavior and decision making in different contexts, with a focus on the use of visual tools in financial decisions and the applications of social information to philanthropic giving. She will lead SPI experiments at Nancy Nicholas Hall in the Consumer Behavior Lab, a unique partnership between the School of Human Ecology and the Wisconsin School of Business.

Assisting with SPI are two consultants, Avner Ben-Ner, professor in the Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies within the Carlson School of Management and affiliated professor in the Law School at the University of Minnesota, and Louis Putterman, professor of economics at Brown University.

SPI also sponsors an annual conference, small grants program and webinar series.

UW-Madison will host the SPI webinars, which will include Judd Kessler, assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, speaking March 21; and Daniel Houser, chair of the department of economics and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science at George Mason University, speaking April 18.

Philanthropic organizations interested in being involved in research projects should visit www.spihub.org.