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New Research on Mobile Giving

Lori Halley 03 February 2012 0 comments

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project recently released a new report – 
 Real Time Charitable Giving  – that focuses on donations made via mobile phones. This report is based on interviews with 863 individuals who gave to the “Text for Haiti” campaign on their cell phones. 

While Pew’s previous research had found that “one in five US adults (20%) have made a charitable contribution online, and that one in ten (9%) have made a charitable contribution using the text messaging feature on their mobile phone,” this new report offers a deeper understanding of mobile giving. And with “two thirds (64%) of American adults now use text messaging,” it’s important for fundraising organizations to understand what motivates mobile giving. 

Report Findings:

Here is a summary of some of the research findings:


  • Most Haiti text donors in this sample were first-time mobile givers who contributed to earthquake relief only via text message — three quarters (74%) say that their donation to Haiti earthquake relief was the first time they had used their phone’s text messaging function to make a donation to an event, cause or organization.
  • Along with being mostly first-time text donors… Eight in ten (80%) did not donate to Haiti relief in any other way
  • Most Haiti text donors in this sample say that their contribution to Haiti relief (and text giving more generally) was a quick decision involving minimal research — (50%) say that they donated immediately upon hearing about the effort.
  • While their initial contribution often involved little deliberation, 43% of these donors encouraged their friends or family members to give to the campaign as well.
  • More than half of these mobile donors made text contributions to other disaster recovery efforts following the Haiti earthquake — a majority of Haiti text donors surveyed (56%) contributed to other disaster recovery efforts using the text messaging feature … following their donation to Haiti earthquake relief (including: Tsunami in Japan; US Gulf oil spill; 2011 tornados in the US)

Putting this information into perspective

But while this study offers fresh insight into mobile giving, it’s important to put these findings into perspective – especially for those small non-profits and charities just thinking about mobile giving as a new channel.

Intense Media Coverage:

We need to remember that this report is based on mobile donations made after the Haiti earthquake – when a speedy response to fund relief efforts was crucial. In addition, as the Pew Report notes, there was intense international coverage about Haiti – “the story was the most heavily covered news event in the two weeks after its occurrence and was the dominant topic in social media conversations at the time”. And as a Mashable post,  suggests, along with the moving media images of the devastation, the call to action came from large organizations – such as the American Red Cross (which promoted the “Text for Haiti” campaign), with influencers, like Michelle Obama, promoting  the public service announcement.

A Closer Look at the Study’s Mobile Donors:

I think we also need to have a good look at the profile of the study’s respondents. The “Profile of the Haiti text donors in this sample”  notes that “the mobile users who participated differ in unique ways when compared with other types of charitable givers”  for example:


  • in particular, they are younger and more racially and ethnically diverse when compared with those who contribute through more traditional means”
  • in addition, these donors “stand out from the adult population as a whole in their ownership and use of technology.”
  • most of the Haiti mobile donors in our survey who belong to a group have contributed money to that group, and their general giving habits are similar to the population as a whole — nearly all of the 73% of Haiti text donors in this survey who belong to a group or organization, have made a monetary contribution to their group(s) in the past

Key Takeaways

The key message that I’ve seen in most of the coverage about this report, is around the confirmation that mobile donations are often an “impulse buy.”  The report certainly demonstrates that donors will respond – quickly and without much thought – to graphic images of people in need when a speedy, easy means of donating (like texting) is available. But another interesting message that emerges from this study is that this “new cohort of charitable givers” made spur-of-the-moment decisions and spread these virally through their friend networks – illustrating the true power of both social and mobile media.  Perhaps most important, it shows that the “Text Haiti” campaign built a foundation for future mobile giving.

You can download the "Key Findings" of Pew's Real Time Charitable Giving  or read the "Overview" - here

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 03 February 2012 at 9:30 AM
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