• James Ron

A "Real-Cash Experiment" in Mexico City

Updated: Jan 20

To learn whether ordinary people in Mexico might donate money to local non-profits, Azimuth advisors David Crow and James Ron, together with Arizona State University professor Jose Kaire, surveyed a representative sample of Mexico City adults.

A survey experiment with real money discovered that many people would be willing to contribute funds, especially when reassured that the organization in question was financially trustworthy.

Donor agencies in wealthy countries often talk about the need to help civil society organizations in middle and lower income countries develop their own sources of domestic funding. Relying on outsiders for money can be problematic because it undermines local participation and accountability, and may hurt NGOs’ legitimacy.

To learn whether ordinary people will donate to local rights groups, we used funding from the Open Society Foundations to survey a representative sample of 960 Mexico City adults (we later replicated the study in Bogota, Colombia).

We told respondents the money was theirs to keep, but if they wanted, they could donate some, or all, to a “Mexican human rights organization,” which we then proceeded to describe. To see which type of organization the public was more likely to support, we randomly allocated 240 respondents into each of four groups, each of which received a different description of a hypothetical rights organization.

The results were promising. The average donation, controlling for other factors, was 21.6 pesos, or 43% of the 50 pesos we gave each respondent. Overall, almost 80% of respondents donated at least something to one of the four groups we described, while 22% donated the entire sum. These findings alone, we believe, suggest there is real potential for Mexican rights groups seeking to raise local money.

The hypothetical organization that received the most donations was the one we described, in great detail, as very trustworthy. We talked about its financial audits, its transparency, and the measures it used to ensure that all donated funds were used for the intended purposes. These characteristics persuaded respondents to donate more.

Mexico, like other countries, suffers from low social trust, leading many to fear that their donations will be squandered, or worse. When reassured that the non-profit in question is a trustworthy custodian of donated funds, however, people are more inclined to contribute.

An earlier version of this blogpost was published in Open Democracy.