Studies show that identifying contributors significantly increases contributions to public goods. In practice, however, viewing identifiable information is costly, which may discourage people from accessing such information. To address this question, we design a public goods experiment in which participants can pay a fee to view information about identities and corresponding contributions of their group members. We then compare this to a treatment in which there is no identifiable information, and a treatment in which all contributors are freely identified. Our main findings are that: (1) contributions in the treatment with costly information are as high as those in the treatment with free information, (2) participants choose to view the information about 10% of the time, and (3) being a high contributor is positively correlated with choosing to view identifiable information about others. Thus, it seems that having access to information is important even when such information is rarely viewed. Our findings have practical implications for non-profit organizations with a large pool of donors and for designers of recognition systems, especially in online communities with many participants.
Samek, A.S. and Sheremeta, R.M. (2014). When identifying contributors is costly: An experiment on public goods. ESI Working Paper 14-04. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/esi_working_papers/22