Source effects and cause involvement in prosocial online crowdfunding: A collective action perspective
First Monday

Source effects and cause involvement in prosocial online crowdfunding: A collective action perspective by Elmie Nekmat and Hong Wen Ng

This study investigates individual motivations to contribute to charitable crowdfunding campaigns from the collective action perspective. A three-group post-test with control experiment (personal source: close friends, family v. impersonal: organizational source v. control: no known source) accounting for individual predispositions (cause involvement, altruism, attitude toward crowdfunding, prior experience) was done. No significant effect of source personalness was found. Instead, a main effect on likelihood to donate to a charitable crowdfunding campaign depends on whether there was a source or not to begin with — with no known source being less influential than a personal and an impersonal source. Post-hoc analysis revealed a moderation effect of cause involvement to motivate greater donation likelihood when the source is perceived to be more personal. Theoretical implications for future research and practical suggestions for prosocial online crowdfunding for charitable purposes are discussed.


Online crowdfunding models and prosocial behaviors in charitable crowdfunding




Online crowdfunding can be defined as the “open call, essentially through the Internet, for the provision of financial resources, either in the form of donation or in exchange for some forms of reward, in order to support initiatives for specific purposes” [1]. Unlike traditional fundraising methods like bank loans or foundations, crowdfunding enables individuals and organizations to appeal for financial support directly from a range of supporters and benefactors online, in exchange for rewards or equities.

Crowdfunding has been popular in the fields of music, art, business start-ups, and product innovations, with researchers reporting billions of dollars in crowdfunding contributions spent by millions of people globally (cf., Mollick, 2014). Two of the most popular crowdfunding Web sites, GoFundMe and KickStarter, garnered a total of about 914 million U.S. dollars in 2014 alone (, 2016). The fast-paced growth, and highly profitable nature of online crowdfunding, has spurred much research on the nature of commercial crowdfunding, suggesting largely extrinsic and community motivations for people supporting online crowdfunding projects (e.g., Agrawal, et al., 2011; Choy and Schlagwein, 2015; Gerber and Hui, 2013; Ordanini, et al., 2011).

Research on individual motivations to contribute to prosocial online crowdfunding for charitable purposes and the role of one’s online networks have remained scant. Akin to ‘civic crowdfunding,’ these are crowdfunding campaigns where individuals collectively contribute toward achieving ’public goods’ that can be “consumed equally by members of a community, regardless of their contribution to the production of the good” [2]. The need to examine the different sources of solicitation for charitable crowdfunding campaigns is heightened when the social media environment make social and personalized sources of information an integral component of users’ daily diet of news and information. The social composition of backer networks matters greatly in determining the repeated success of crowdfunding campaigns, as concluded by Davidson and Poor (2016) from their analysis of more than 77,000 crowdfunding projects for over 67,000 project starters on Kickstarter. Moreover, the potential of every dollar to snowball to hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars in a short time through fast-paced crowdsourcing makes it crucial for groups or organizations intending to run crowdfunding campaigns to know whether it will be more effective to solicit support via social referrers, or directly on social media platforms. The myriad of sources in social media thus warrants the need to ascertain whether personal sources are, indeed, influential in crowdfunding campaigns.

The present study thus examines the potential of different sources (personal: close friends, family vs. impersonal: organizational sources) to motivate individual likelihood to contribute to online crowdfunding campaigns on social media, and expands crowdfunding research onto a charitable, prosocial context for social good (i.e., campaigns geared toward social causes without personal tangible rewards or profits). In so doing, we provide a new perspective on online crowdfunding research by building upon the donation-based model in crowdfunding with collective action theory. To provide a more accurate investigation of source influence, individual’s personal involvement in the collective cause promoted in the campaign, attitude toward crowdfunding for charity, altruism, and prior experience with charitable donations and crowdfunding were accounted for in the study; with the potential of cause involvement to moderate source influence investigated.



Online crowdfunding models and prosocial behaviors in charitable crowdfunding

Online crowdfunding models are generally broken down into four types — donation, reward-based funding, lending, and equity (Y.J. Kim, 2014; Mollick, 2014). In the donation model, donors do not receive any tangible returns or shared profits. In a reward-based model, supporters receive broad-ranging compensation that can be anything from the product to personal interaction opportunities with project creators (e.g., (Jian and Shin, 2015). In the lending model, individuals expect their loans repaid monetarily, either with or without interest (e.g., The equity model allows contributors to acquire company equity and receive a share of the profits (e.g., (cf., Ordanini, et al., 2011). Contributors’ motivations can therefore vary based on the types of incentives that can be obtained for contributing to a crowdfunding campaign.

Studies in these veins provide insights on individual motivations driving charitable crowdfunding. Gerber and Hui (2013) uncovered creator motivations (i.e., wanting to raise funds, expand awareness of work, connect with others, gain approval) and supporter motivations (i.e., to collect rewards, personal beliefs, be part of a community, altruism) as strong indicators of successful charitable crowdfunding campaigns. On the flipside, distrust with campaign creators and not knowing how organizers actually utilize the funds received are strong deterrents to individual support. Zhao and colleagues (2017) surveyed 204 crowdfunding backers in Taiwan from a social exchange perspective and found that perceived trust in project managers heightens the perceived commitment of these managers and, consequently, individuals’ likelihood to donate to crowdfunding projects.

Individuals are shown to engage in prosocial behaviors online when influenced by friends instead of strangers (Barry and Wentzel, 2006). Defined as “voluntary actions that are intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals” [3], prosocial behaviors manifest in online communities where members share common goals and engage in reciprocal, supportive interactions (Nekmat and Lee, 2018). In their study on the motivational crowdwork of computer-mediated crowdfunding, Gerber, et al. (2012) revealed how such supportive social interactions and “feelings of connectedness to a community with similar ideals&eedquo; help heighten individuals’ desire to help crowdfunding projects [4]. Additionally, supporters of not-for-profit crowdfunding campaigns are encouraged by the feelings of responsibility toward the collective cause, and the motivation to strengthen the collective identity and shared interests of the community (Metzler, 2011). Echoing findings from the collective action literature, crowdfunders value a sense of belonging to their community (Aitamurto, 2011) and largely strive to be “part of a communal social initiative” [5]. This sense of belonging to a community is crucial when donors desire to expand their peer networks through social engagement with others in the community, such as through the sharing of personal experiences, expertise, and social support — on top of monetary contributions (Choy and Schlagwein, 2015). Motivations to support charitable crowdfunding from a prosocial perspective, therefore, go beyond the tangible rewards expected for the support given.

Online crowdfunding studies have, however, tended to focus on reward-based crowdfunding in entrepreneurial-type campaigns. This is in spite of research suggesting that on a typical crowdfunding platform, non-profit status on individual projects derives higher success rate and overall funding amount than its for-profit counterparts (Lambert and Schweinbacher, 2010), and that online crowdfunding is increasingly used for non-commercial purposes (Choy and Schlagwein, 2015; Davies, 2014). Moreover, studies on donation-based crowdfunding campaigns have largely focused on one specific mode of peer-to-peer lending for charitable purpose (Knudsen and Nielsen, 2013; McKinnon, et al., 2013), but neglected other charitable crowdfunding modes, such as those from groups and organizations soliciting donations for social and charitable causes.

Collective action theory

Collective action, defined broadly as “actions taken by two or more people in pursuit of the same collective good” [6], bolsters the present study’s framework to better explain individual motivations to contribute to charitable crowdfunding campaigns beyond tangible rewards. Charitable crowdfunding can be considered collective in nature when they help contributors achieve outcomes that are collectively shared by others in the community or group, reiterating the self- and community supporter motivations in donation-based crowdfunding models discussed earlier. Similar to the goals of charitable crowdfunding campaigns, efforts by activist groups to recruit participants for collective action rely heavily on passing along information and motivating individuals (Klandermans and Oegema, 1987). Potential supporters thus “have to be informed and recruited before they can actually participate” [7] and ‘being asked’ to participate is a determining factor predicting individuals’ participation in collective activities (Verba, et al., 1995).

Invitational source personalness and likelihood to contribute

Studies on online collective action highlight the flexible and loose-structured nature of groups and organizations on the Internet to lead to successful mobilization of individuals for collective action. This relational diffusion process via interpersonal networks (Bennett, et al., 2008; Tarrow and McAdam, 2005) relies on the use of personal networking strategies where individuals are strategically informed of, and recruited for action by, their peers and personal networks. The people in these networks include one’s friends, family members, colleagues, and peers from school (Fisher and Boekkooi, 2010). Other scholars have similarly found community networking and interpersonal networks to lead to looser and flatter group hierarchies, making it easier for individuals to contribute to a cause promoted by the group and giving rise to more fluid and entrepreneurial forms of activism (Bennett, et al., 2008; Bimber, et al., 2012). These interpersonal networks provide informational bridges that connect potential participants to the purpose of the cause and to relay the information and resources necessary for participation. Additionally, people “rely on their internalized group memberships and social identities to achieve social involvement” when relating to a shared cause and in deciding whether to contribute to it over the Internet [8].

Apart from personal networks, individuals also receive messages directly from organizations and groups soliciting support for social causes on the Internet. These messages can be received on social networking sites like Facebook — even if one had not subscribed to such groups, and as long as any of his or her “followers” or “friends” is linked to those groups or organizations on the social networking platform (Nekmat, et al., 2015). The messages typically come from individuals in organizations that may include leaders, task committees, and ordinary members, and become persuasive when individuals heuristically cue the sender as expert sources for the causes promoted in the campaign and deem the information provided to be accurate and reliable. Organizational sources become more influential when deemed as ‘cognitive authorities’ on the issues in the domains “of their own experience and on matters they have been in a position to observe or undergo” [9]. From these viewpoints, messages received directly from animal rights group activists advocating for the protection of animals, for example, can be seen as reliable and trustworthy, and their plea for crowdfunding support to be influential.

That said, research on donor motivation reveals that asking one’s friends, family members, and colleagues to donate tends to generate greater donations. In a study on charitable practices, Castillo, et al. (2014) found that charities can increase donations by simply asking donors to share that they have donated to their friends and family. The social pressure to donate is found to be especially strong when a strong-tied source makes a request for a donation (Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011). Moreover, in most social contexts, the act of contributing money or time will yield some social reward as members of the society express approval (Barclay, 2004). Repeated interaction creates an incentive for helping others through expectations of reciprocity (Cialdini, et al.,, 1997). Thus, one would expect requests to volunteer by friends to be more effective than requests by strangers.

Studies along this vein reveal that information on the giving decisions of others also exert influence on one’s willingness to donate (cf., Frey and Meier, 2004; Shang and Croson, 2009). Knowing who contributed to a cause and the amount of the contribution affects the probability and level of individual contribution. It is, thus, expected that, and consistent with findings from crowdfunding literature (Agrawal, et al., 2011), seeing strong ties like friends and family involved in a particular cause can predict the amount of donations received from a campaign (Jian and Shin, 2015). Additionally, as earlier discussed, studies from the collective action literature have also shown that invitational messages coming from people in one’s close personal networks are more influential in motivating individual contribution to collective causes than those coming from organizational sources. The following hypothesis is thus posited.

Hypothesis 1: Personal sources (friends and family) will lead to greater individual likelihood to donate to a crowdfunding campaign than impersonal sources (organizational sources).

Cause involvement and likelihood to donate

Personal involvement in a social cause or issue, also known as cause involvement, describes individual attitudinal predispositions that helps “determine expressive actions, with individuals typically speaking on behalf of groups whose cause they share, and against those whose cause they oppose” [10]. From the collective action perspective, personal convictions to the cause and affiliations to the groups advocating it are crucial in mobilizing individuals to support the cause (Klandermans and Oegema, 1987), as well as in motivating them to contribute money and spread information about the cause and in rallying others to join the cause (Bullock, et al., 2002).

Strong personal and moral values are also associated with increased giving. Studies show that individuals who have altruistic or prosocial values and those who endorse moral principles of justice and care (Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011) are significantly more likely to donate. In addition to such broad values being associated with increased giving, the values tied to specific causes can also be predictive of giving behavior in support of charities. Similarly, crowdfunding supporters are motivated to donate to crowdfunding campaigns that support causes analogous to their personal beliefs (Gerber and Hui, 2013), and that most donors are primarily motivated to donate because of their interest in the cause (cf., the 2014 “Earthship Kapita” campaign in Germany) (Choy and Schlagwein, 2015). Studies confirmed that crowdfunders are, indeed, motivated to support a cause so as to help others with similar interests (Gerber, et al., 2012; Ordanini, et al., 2011). It is, thus, likely that personal cause involvement would heighten individuals’ willingness to donate to a charitable crowdfunding campaign online. The following hypothesis is forwarded.

Hypothesis 2: Personal cause involvement is positively related to the likelihood to donate to an online crowdfunding campaign for the cause.

Perceived source personalness and cause involvement

Collective action research reveals that personal networks can trigger individual participation in activism via social media, above and beyond individual predispositions and involvement in the issue at hand (Nekmat, et al., 2015). This bolsters other findings that had shown how individuals with prior cause involvement and personal affiliation with the organization and people championing the cause tend to exhibit greater tendency to participate in the collective effort (Bimber, et al., 2012; Fisher and Boekkooi, 2010; Lim, 2012). Additionally, according to social influence network theory, the influence of one’s personal networks to motivate individual behavior is heightened as the collective opinions and perspectives of members from their social circles help orient individuals to the significance of certain socio-political issues and how those issues should, and can, affect them (Glynn and Park, 1997; Oshagan, 1996).

Perceived source personalness would also intensify personal cause involvement and influence individual behaviors due to perceived group norms. As key constituents of one’s reference group, the perceived behaviors (cf., behavioral norm) and perceived attitudes (cf., group attitude) of one’s personal networks imply rules that specify how one should behave as part of the social circle (Terry and Hogg, 1996). In other words, close friends, colleagues, and family members seen to be in support of a cause-based crowdfunding signal the salience of the cause to individuals as part of the group norm. Much has also been written linking group norms to individual behaviors (Cialdini and Goldstein, 2004). Norms have been repeatedly found to be predictors for a range of behaviors from decisions to litter (Cialdini, et al., 1990), to alcohol abuse (Walters and Neighbors, 2005), and to engage in safe sex practices (van Empelen, et al., 2001), among others. Injunctive norms, for instance, signals what a social group deems to be appropriate behavior (i.e., what people ought and ought not to do) to the individual and as studies show, will predict charitable giving intentions (Smith and McSweeney, 2007). Additionally, as earlier discussed, attitudes, perceived behavioral control, moral norms, and past behaviors help predict individuals’ donative behaviors and charitable intentions.

It is, thus, tenable that the perceived personalness of message sender signaling the group norms for a specific cause would intensify the influence of personal cause involvement on individuals’ likelihood to contribute toward the shared cause. The following hypothesis tests this proposition in the context of charitable crowdfunding campaigns.

Hypothesis 3: Perceived source personalness will moderate the relationship between cause involvement and likelihood to donate such that, the stronger the perceived personalness of the source, the greater is the likelihood to donate.

Individual predisposition to donate

Several other individual factors and predispositions have also been found to affect one’s likelihood to donate and engage in collective behaviors. These include, attitude toward donations (cf., Webb, et al., 2000), altruism (cf., Baruch, et al., 2016; Read, 2013), and personal experiences with donations (cf., Davidson and Poor, 2016). The present study, thus, adapts and accounts for these individual factors in the context of donating to a charitable cause via online crowdfunding to provide a more accurate evaluation of the influence of source personalness and cause involvement on individual likelihood to contribute to the crowdfunding campaign.




Based on studies that show it is Internet users between ages 20–35 who most prefer to donate through the Web, as compared to other ages (Feldmann and White, 2013), a total of 187 participants aged between 21 and 25 years were recruited for the study. Of the sample, 22 were undergraduates majoring in media studies and 165 participants were recruited via snowballing participants’ referral of others in their social networks falling within the age group. Overall, females made up 67.4 percent (n = 126) of participants with the overall mean age of participants being 22.6 years (SD = 1.28).


A post-test-only online experiment with control comprising three groups (personal source, organizational source, control) was carried out to test if source personalness affects likelihood to donate. The first part of the questionnaire collected individual predispositional factors — participants’ cause involvement, attitude toward donation for charitable crowdfunding, altruism, and previous experiences with crowdfunding and donations for charity. This part of the questionnaire was done beforehand to remove any systematic influences from the simultaneous self-reporting of dependent measures collected post-manipulation. After completing the first part of the questionnaire, participants were randomly exposed to the three groups each with a stimulus embedded in the questionnaire. This was followed by post-stimulus questions measuring participants’ likelihood to donate.


A mock crowdfunding campaign about helping stray animals was created based on the popular crowdfunding site Indiegogo that specializes in charitable crowdfunding (Gerber and Hui, 2013). To avoid bias pertaining to Web site and organizer recognitions, a mock Web site named, “Small Society”, was used along with an accompanying logo of a piggybank. Overall, the crowdfunding Web site was created based on the common characteristics of crowdfunding sites as identified by Y.J. Kim (2014). See stimulus used in Appendix.

Participants were randomly assigned to each of the three treatment groups, personal (n = 64), impersonal (n = 63), and control (n = 60). Participants in the personal source group were informed that they had received the crowdfunding message from their close personal network on social media (cf., Nekmat, et al., 2015). To create a more ‘personalized’ scenario and to increase ‘the believability of the situation,’ participants in this group were told to write the name of one person they personally know and their relationship with the person, and were then informed that the message had come from this person (cf., Oshagan, 1996). Participants in the impersonal source group were told that the message had come from someone belonging to an organization whom that they do not know personally (“a member of Cat Welfare Association”). Control group participants only saw the crowdfunding campaign message, and were not told or exposed to anyone or any group promoting it to them.

Participants in the personal and impersonal source groups were also reminded in the post-test survey of the respective sources that had sent them the message (cf., Sundar and Nass, 2001). For example, in the impersonal group, participants were asked “bearing in mind that you have received this message from someone from the organization whom you do not know personally, please state how likely are you to donate to the cause.” A manipulation check for personal and impersonal sources was done with participants indicating on a 7-point Likert-type scale, ranging “1 = very little, 7 = very much” how “close are you to the person who passed the message to you.” Independent t-test results showed a significant difference in perceived source personalness between the personal group (M = 4.64, SD = 1.29) and impersonal group (M = 1.98, SD = 1.08), t(125) = 8.14, p < 0.01.


Likelihood to donate. Participants’ likelihood to donate to the crowdfunding campaign was measured on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = very unlikely, 7 = very likely) asking them to rate “how likely are you to donate to the cause.”

Personal cause involvement. This concept was operationalized as how one felt a specific issue was personally important to them and their attitude importance to that issue (Y.M. Kim, 2009). The level of participants’ cause involvement was measured on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from “very little” to “very much” with 12 items asking participants their stance on the cause promoted in the crowdfunding campaign (i.e., animal welfare and raising money to help stray animals). The statements include, “to what extent do you personally accept animal welfare in society,” “others in society should accept animal welfare,” “how committed are you in ensuring animal welfare,” and “how strongly do you feel about any issues related to animal welfare” (α = 0.94) (M = 5.05, SD = 0.99).

Attitude toward charitable crowdfunding. This individual predisposition was measured with 12 questions measuring participants’ attitude toward charitable crowdfunding. Participants indicated their position on a 7-point Likert scale ranging “very little” to “very much” on statements such as “the issue of crowdfunding for charity is important to you personally,” “crowdfunding is an acceptable way to raise money for charity,” and “others in society should accept online crowdfunding for charity” (α = 0.84) (M = 4.57, SD = 0.97).

Altruism. Defined as one’s willingness to show selfless concern for the benefit of others, this variable was measured with five items adapted from the scale by Penner (2002) on the causes of sustained voluntarism. On a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging, 1 = very unlikely and 7 = very likely, participants rated their likelihood to carry out specific actions such as, “help carry a stranger’s belongings (e.g., books, parcels),” “voluntarily look after neighbor’s pets or children without being asked or paid,” and “allow someone to go ahead of me in a queue even when I am short of time” (α = 0.76) (M = 4.78, SD = 0.79).

Prior experience with online charitable donation. This variable was measured with two items that asked participants to rate their own experience and level of familiarity with online donations on a 5-point scale (1 = none at all, 2 = a little, 3 = moderate, 4 = a lot, 5 = a great deal) (r = 0.82, p < .001; M = 1.79, SD = .74).

Prior experience with online crowdfunding. To measure this variable, participants rated their “experience with” and level of “familiarity of” online crowdfunding on a 5-point scale (1 = none at all, 2 = a little, 3 = a moderate amount, 4 = a lot, 5 = a great deal) (r = 0.86, p < .001, M = 1.29, SD = 0.63).




Results from ANCOVA showed significant differences between the three treatment groups on likelihood to donate, F(2,184) = 15.98, p < 0.001, R2 = 0.19. Participants who had received the campaign from a personal source were more likely to donate (M = 4.12, SD = 1.43) as compared to those who received it from an organizational source (M = 3.95, SD = 1.36) and those who were not told where the campaign came from (M = 3.17, SD = 1.40). Post-hoc pair-wise analysis with LSD, however, revealed that a significant difference only exists between the control group and those who had received the campaign from either a personal source or an organizational source, F(2,184) = 8.17, p < 0.001. No significant pair-wise differences exist between those who were invited by someone they knew and those who had received the campaign from an organizational source (p = 0.49). Based on the pair-wise results, Hypothesis 1 was not supported. The main effect on likelihood to donate to a charitable crowdfunding campaign was due to whether there was a source or not to begin with, with no sources (i.e., control group) (M = 3.17) being less influential than having a source (M = 4.11).

Post-hoc analysis of Hypothesis 1

Results of the manipulation check discussed in the method section showed that participants had perceived the different sources that had passed the message to them to be significantly either more personal (someone they personally know) or impersonal (organizational source that they do not personally know). The personal group had significantly higher levels of perceived source personalness (M = 4.64, SD = 1.29) when compared with the impersonal group (M = 2.92, SD = 1.08). Since the non-support for H1 was not due to experimental manipulation, there is reason to posit that source personalness is not absolute in social media, and that it might occur in a range of perceived personalness of source.

This was evident by the self-report of the names and relationship with the person that had sent the crowdfunding campaign message written by participants in the personal group in the experiment. Analysis revealed a range of personal relationships that include platonic friends to romantic partners, and immediate to extended family members. Among the 64 participants in the group, 10.9 percent (n = 7) wrote the name of a family member, yet there were distinctions between immediate and extended family members with answers like ‘nephew,’ ‘mother,’ ‘cousin’ and ‘sister’ appearing. Majority of respondents, 63.2 percent (n = 41), wrote the name of a friend. A closer probe further revealed distinctions even between platonic friends, with answers like ‘primary school friend,’ ‘university friend,’ and ‘online friend.’ Romantic partners included ‘girlfriend,’ and ‘boyfriend.’ Table 1 shows the distribution of personal sources that participants wrote had passed them the message.


Source-participant relationship and frequency


The above finding is unsurprising when we consider social media enables one to build and capitalize on weak-ties as well as strong-ties, and it blurs the perception of what constitutes a personal source. For instance, a participant’s classmate could be a more ‘personal’ friend to one respondent as compared to another. To test for these differences, and how they affect individuals’ likelihood to donate to a charitable crowdfunding campaign, analyses within each group (personal and impersonal) were done for the range of perceived source personalness in the groups.

A linear regression analysis was done between perceived source personalness and likelihood to donate in the personal group. Results revealed a significant relationship between perceived source personalness and likelihood to donate, β = 0.45, F(1,62) = 15.54, p < 0.001, R2 = 0.19. In the impersonal group, a significant relationship between perceived source personalness and likelihood to donate was also found, β = 0.26, F(1,61) = 4.46, p < 0.05, R2 = 0.05). In addition to the greater p-value, the variances explained on likelihood to donate was much lower in the impersonal group than the personal group (-13.7 percent), showing that perceived personalness of source in the personal group was more influential than that from the impersonal group. There are, thus, compelling evidence to suggest that invitations from people in one’s close personal circles are more influential as compared with those from impersonal organizational sources, and it is the perceived personalness of source that matters more on social media. Subsequent analyses were thus done based on the level of perceived source personalness.

Hypothesis 2 posited a positive relationship between individual cause involvement and their willingness to donate to an online crowdfunding campaign. Multiple regression analysis results accounting for control variables (altruism, attitude toward crowdfunding for charity, prior experiences with online donations and crowdfunding) revealed a significant relationship between cause involvement and willingness to donate, β = 0.23, t(187) = 2.75, p < 0.01. Cause involvement accounted for 3.7 percent of variance change in willingness to donate after accounting for control variables (R2 = 0.04, p < 0.01). The control variables did not show any significant relationships with willingness to donate. Hypothesis 2 was supported.

Hypothesis 3 posited that perceived source personalness will moderate the relationship between cause involvement and willingness to donate, such that the stronger the perceived personalness of the source the greater is the willingness to donate. Multiple regression analysis results revealed a significant interaction effect between cause involvement and perceived source personalness, F(3, 62) = 10.15, p < 0.001, R2 = 0.30, p < 0.001, with the interactant variable producing statistic, β = -2.66, t(64) = -3.14, p < 0.01 on willingness to donate. Participants were, on the overall, more willing to donate when perceived source personalness is high. The regression results and interaction graph are shown in Table 2 and Figure 1, respectively. Hypothesis 3 was supported.


Multiple regression analysis on likelihood to donate



Relationship between mean cause involvement and likelihood to donate as a function of perceived source personalness
Figure 1: Relationship between mean cause involvement and likelihood to donate as a function of perceived source personalness.
Note: Group 1 = M < 4.0, low perceived source personalness; Group 2 = M > 4.0, high perceived source personalness)
Note: Larger version available here.





The purpose of this study was to investigate individual motivations to contribute to charitable crowdfunding campaigns online. The present study, thus, extended research on online crowdfunding by examining it from a prosocial, charitable context by combining theoretical perspectives from the donation-based model for crowdfunding and collective action literature. Overall, personal sources (i.e., friends, family) were found to not be any more influential than impersonal sources (i.e., organizational sources) in motivating individuals to donate to charitable crowdfunding campaigns via social media. Personal involvement with the cause is positively related to donation likelihood, and is moderated by the perceived personalness of the person who had solicited donations for the campaign. Additionally, post-hoc analysis of findings uncovered that individuals’ perceived personalness of a source exists in a broad range on social media, which would comprise platonic friends to romantic partners, and immediate to extended family members. The theoretical and practical significance of the study’s findings are discussed below.

Compared to prior studies that showed a number of individual motivations behind crowdfunding donor behaviors, the present study found no significant relationship between altruism and donation likelihood. This contradicts prior findings and postulations that participation in donative crowdfunding provides altruistic fulfilment (Read, 2013) and that altruism is largely responsible for selfless giving (Barclay, 2004). This shows that in the context of charitable crowdfunding, donating out of plain generosity without expecting any returns or rewards might not necessarily be a strong motivator, and that factors such as social influence and cause involvement, as evidenced in the present study, play a greater role in determining individual willingness to contribute to a charitable crowdfunding campaign.

In online collective action systems that facilitate social interactions, several social motivations like social influence and concerns for one’s personal relationships (i.e., what other people think of the individual) could be triggered and be a cause for individual action. For instance, the influence of friends is a strong predictor of an individual’s prosocial behavior (Barry and Wentzel, 2006), donative tendency (Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011; Castillo, et al., 2014), and to participate in online activism toward social causes (Bennett, et al., 2008; Nekmat, et al., 2015; Tarrow and McAdam, 2005). The present study, instead, found that source presence was the significant predictor of one’s likelihood to donate to charitable crowdfunding efforts as compared to whether one knows the source personally or not.

The lack of difference between personal and impersonal sources in influencing donation likelihood might also be attributed to the lack of a community. Past studies show that communities of crowdfunding supporters for non-profits are motivated by strengthening their identity and social status with other members in the community (Gerber, et al., 2012; Metzler, 2011), having a sense of belonging to their community (Aitamurto, 2011), and to be “part of a communal social initiative” [11]. Choy and Schlagwein (2015) reified that one’s desire to be part of a community and to show one’s social engagements to others in the community are significant donor motivations for crowdfunders. Obligatory reciprocity between members in a community of frequent fundraisers also helps explain individuals’ willingness to donate to a crowdfunding campaign (Zheng, et al., 2014). The present study had, however, tested the influence of message sources in a stand-alone campaign having no strong links to any sense of a crowdfunding community to the potential donor. Future studies should be able to examine the extent of the potential between personal and community influences for crowdfunding campaigns online.

If, indeed, individual motivation to donate to online crowdfunding campaigns is more closely associated with community-based experiences that generate community benefits for participants as findings from the present study imply, campaign creators should be focusing on community building practices. This can involve engaging with potential supporters personally by explaining the value of their support (Markey, 2000), regularly asking for feedback regarding campaign operations and provide regular updates to individuals interested or have contributed to similar campaigns before (Hui, et al., 2014). Establishing and nurturing an online community based on the common identity among individuals interested in similar shared causes are thus essential strategies for online crowdfunding.

The challenge, however, remains in encouraging newer donors who are not part of any community to begin contributing — highlighting similar predicament found in previous studies that reliance on small groups of one-time backers would not lead to repeated successes in crowdfunding campaigns (Davidson and Poor, 2016). The reliance on community engagement and motivation to spur individual contribution without the potential of engaging donors unrelated to the community questions the sustainability of online crowdfunding campaigns. Moreover, leveraging interpersonal networks to solicit support for crowdfunding campaigns is very challenging as campaign creators and supporters could not continuously, and repeatedly, tap on their friends, family, and people they know for monetary contributions (Jian and Shin, 2015). It would, therefore, be very beneficial for future studies to investigate how the community can be leveraged to sustain charitable crowdfunding efforts in online settings.

The post-hoc analysis finding that source personalness on social media is not absolute and exists in a range of perceived closeness may lend some insights toward how a crowdfunding community can be built on social media. As uncovered, a “friend” in one’s social network could imply different levels of perceived closeness depending on each individual’s personal relationship with the person. It is plausible that the fluidity of perceived source personalness on social media could play a role in building an individual’s perception of community and how they relate to the different people in the community. As individuals perceive others in the community to be much closer to them even without meeting in person (i.e., through common interests and identity), this would enable community building and personal relationships to be formed based on common ideologies and shared causes. With social media facilitating these connections and conversations, community building among like-minded individuals across distances would become easier for charitable crowdfunding purposes.

The moderation of personal cause involvement by perceived source personalness supports social conformity theories that postulate the propensity of personal networks in one’s reference groups to strengthen his or her orientation on the significance of socio-political issues and how these issues might affect them (Glynn and Park, 1997; Oshagan, 1996). As findings show, individuals’ likelihood to donate to a charitable crowdfunding campaign is greater when they perceive the source of the message to be more personal as opposed to impersonal. Social motives to integrate with reference groups influence one’s interest in connecting with others at a more personal level (Klandermans and Oegema, 1987), and the social approval and integration with one’s personal cliques may be reasons promoting a heightened sense of involvement and contribution to shared goals (Glynn and Park, 1997). This may be especially true if the cause is endorsed and personally valued by people who are perceivably close and socially significant to the target of action. It is, thus, advisable for charitable crowdfunding creators to maintain a personally relatable presence on social media so as to increase their level of interpersonal interaction to online users and improve support-seeking efforts.

Limitation and future research

To maintain the internal validity in the experimental procedure, possible confounding elements that may be present in the design and interface of actual crowdfunding Web sites (e.g., current amount of funds raised) were not included in the stimulus. The absence of such factors might have negatively influenced individuals’ perception of group or collective efficacy toward achieving the campaign’s goal. Previous studies have shown how these efficacy perceptions can motivate individual contribution to shared causes (Nekmat, et al., 2015). It is plausible that individuals do not believe they can make a difference to the cause promoted in the campaign even if they had donated. Additionally, aggregated statistics about amount of funds raised are important in crowdfunding campaigns as it provides potential donors with an idea of how much was raised out of the targeted amount in order to make the campaign successful. Since crowdfunding is a collective effort, future research could explore how these group efficacy and campaign success indicators can impact the actual success on charitable crowdfunding campaigns online.




This study had examined the potential of different message sources to solicit individual donations in a prosocial, charitable crowdfunding campaign online. Findings affirmed the influence of invitational source and cause involvement on individuals’ likelihood to donate to the crowdfunding campaign, while highlighting that individuals can perceive a range of personalness of source on social media. Discussion of findings raised the possibility that community influence as compared to a specific message source could plausibly be a stronger determinant of charitable crowdfunding efforts online. Suggestions were offered for crowdfunders and future research to further explore the role of an online community in prosocial, charitable crowdfunding campaigns. End of article


About the authors

Elmie Nekmat is assistant professor of communications and new media at the National University of Singapore. He researches media effects, with a program focused on the social-psychological processes and effects of computer-mediated communication in public opinion formation and expression, digitally-mediated collective action, and digital credibility evaluation.
Send comments to: cnmmen [at] nus [dot] edu [dot] sg

Hong Wen Ng is a graduate of the Department of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore. Her research interest lies in social media, with focus on online crowdsourcing and crowdfunding campaigns.
E-mail: nghongwen [at] gmail [dot] com



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Experimental stimulus


Celebrating animals
Note: Larger version available here.



Editorial history

Received 9 January 2019; revised 23 February 2019; accepted 23 February 2019.

Copyright © 2019, Elmie Nekmat and Hong Wen Ng. All Rights Reserved.

Source effects and cause involvement in prosocial online crowdfunding: A collective action perspective
by Elmie Nekmat and Hong Wen Ng.
First Monday, Volume 24, Number 3 - 4 March 2019

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