My dissertation applies the signaling theory of charity to human rights non-governmental organizations (HRNGOs).
As conventionally understood, HRNGOs exist to fulfill what they perceive as an unmet need for improvement in the respect for human rights. While it may seem obvious that HRNGOs pursue fulfillment of these unmet needs, there is more than meets the eye. Rigorous measures of HRNGO effectiveness seem absent from the interests of both donors and HRNGOs. Because an exchange of measurable improvement in human well-being for dollars given is absent from a thriving, multibillion-dollar relationship between donors and HRNGOs, some other satisfying product must be the focus of both parties.
Signaling theory stands in with that product. HRNGOs provide a signaling service to their donors. Donors are not fooled by this, but rather are expecting this exact product in return. Donors purchase a signaling service: they pay for the ability to show the world that they are prosocial, altruistic, compassionate, and politically liberal. For HRNGOs, the primary product on offer is a badge outwardly signaling that the wearer is a person who is associated with the broadly known intentions of the HRNGO. For the donor, the benefit is prestige and status that comes with associating with the HRNGO.
Four empirical markers distinguish my signaling theory of NGOs from other theories of NGOs. First, NGO evaluations are tools for appearing effective, not being effective. Second, the accountability movement does not hold HRNGOs accountable for being effective. Third, individual donors are not motivated to give based on a consideration of NGO effectiveness. Fourth, HRNGOs bandwagon by focusing on issues that are already fashionable, popular, and well-known rather than advocating for neglected issues.