New tool shows that goodwill may trump profit as a work motivator

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Researchers at the Cheriton School of Computer Science have found that individuals may be more motivated to do work for their favourite charity than for money. 

In a study reviewing the efficacy of a new online work-sharing platform designed to put money into the hands of charities, the researchers discovered that people providing their skills and labour toward a specific task tended to do a better job if they knew their favourite charity rather than themselves would be paid for it.

“We found that the charity group appeared to be more thorough than regular crowd workers who were performing a task solely to get paid,” said Keiko Katsuragawa, an adjunct professor in Waterloo’s Cheriton School of Computer Science. “Participants who were told their pay would go to charity took more time and more care with the task perhaps because they weren’t trying to maximize their own earnings, but were undertaking the task as a contribution to a charity.”

photo of Keiko Katsuragawa and Ed Lank

The new online work-sharing platform, PledgeWork, allows employers to post tasks and deposit the cost for the job and choose the charities to donate their task cost to or leave this choice to the volunteers. The volunteers choose tasks and, if not prespecified, the charity they wish to support. Once the volunteer completes the job, the requester checks the task results, confirms the task results match their criteria, and, instead of paying the workers, approves a donation to the specified charity.

In the study, the researchers evaluated the crowd work habits of 28 participants and found that individuals generally did a better job when informed that the money from their work would go to the United Nations rather than their own bank accounts.

The model, according to researchers involved in the study, may also help people overcome some of the perceived barriers of donating to charitable organizations.

“Many people do not have the money to give to their favourite cause and often perceive that they may not have the skills or time to give to a charity whose work matters to them,” said Cheriton Computer Science Professor Edward Lank. “What a crowd-working tool seems to be able to do is overcome those barriers in a way that allows people to use their skills to benefit a charity anonymously.”


A paper detailing the new system titled “PledgeWork: Online Volunteering through Crowdwork,” authored by Keiko Katsuragawa, Ed Lank and Qi Shu, research assistant in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, was published recently in the Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

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