Darwinian evolution can explain human cooperative behaviour among non-kin by either direct or indirect reciprocity. In the latter case one does not expect a return for an altruistic act from the recipient as with direct reciprocity, but from another member of the social group. However, the widespread human behaviour of donating to poor people outside the social group, for example, to charity organizations, that are unlikely to reciprocate indirectly and thus are equivalent to defectors in the game is still an evolutionary puzzle. Here we show experimentally that donations made in public to a well-known relief organization resulted both in increased income (that the donors received from the members of their group) and in enhanced political reputation (they were elected to represent the interests of their group). Donations may thus function as an honest signal for one's social reliability.