He found that when people are part of a larger social group, they feel less of a need to share information about well performing charities because they are expecting other friends to share the information. This concept of "free-riding" also extends to giving in social groups - friends expect other friends to stump up most of the cash and so they do not bother themselves.

"The problem is that everyone thinks the same thing and therefore the actual amount of money that is donated is less than it would have been had fewer friends been asked in the first place," Scharf said. She also discovered that the amount a person can raise does not only depend on the number of friends they have online - those who complete tougher fund raising activities generate more cash.

"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 pointed out.

Giving behaviour is largely affected by existing personal relationships, whether it is friends, family or work colleagues - these factors are extremely important according to the responses we had from donors, the author said. The research was published in the journal International Economic Review.


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