Mobile Giving Impacting Charitable Donations


WASHINGTON, DC—Charitable donations from mobile phones have grown more common in recent years. Two thirds (64 percent) of American adults now use text messaging, and 9 percent have texted a charitable donation from their mobile phone.

And these text donors are emerging as a new cohort of charitable givers. The first-ever, in-depth study on mobile donors—which analyzed the "Text to Haiti" campaign after the 2010 earthquake—finds that these contributions were often spur-of-the-moment decisions that spread virally through friend networks. Three quarters of these donors contributed using their phones on the same day they heard about the campaign, and a similar number (76 percent) say that they typically make text message donations without conducting much in-depth research beforehand.

Yet while their initial contribution often involved little deliberation, 43 percent of these donors encouraged their friends or family members to give to the campaign as well. In addition, a majority of those surveyed (56 percent) have continued to give to more recent disaster relief efforts—such as the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan—using their mobile phones.

These are among the findings of a new a new study produced by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and Harvard's Berkman Center for the Internet & Society, in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the mGive Foundation.

"In contrast to other types of charitable contributions, which often involve some background research, or are directed towards organizations with which the donor has an existing relationship, mobile giving is often an 'impulse purchase' in response to a major event or call to action," said Aaron Smith, senior research specialist at the Pew Internet Project and author of the report. "These donations come from people who are ready to give if they are moved by what they see and hear."

"These findings have vast implications for non-profits, other cause-related charities, and even philanthropists," noted Rob Faris, Research Director for the Berkman Center. "The age of mobile connectivity is creating a new class of networked donors who learn quickly about tragedies that occur anywhere on the planet and respond immediately."

"The Red Cross campaign showed that innovation can have a transformational effect in crises," said Amy Starlight Lawrence, Journalism and Media Innovation Program associate for Knight Foundation. "This survey, which details the story behind millions in donations, should help other non-profits develop powerful new tools to fund and execute their missions."

The study also finds that these mobile givers are younger and more diverse compared with other charitable donors, and differ significantly from the overall population when it comes to their use of technology. They are especially likely to:

  • Own an e-reader (24 pecent do so, compared with 9 percet of all U..S adults), laptop computer (82 percent vs. 57 percent) or tablet computer (23 percent vs. 10 percet).
  • Use Twitter (23 percet of the Haiti donors we surveyed who go online are Twitter users, compared with 12 percent of all online adults) or social networking sites (83 percent vs. 64 percent).

While they differ demographically and in their technology habits, these donors differ little from the national average in terms of their overall civic engagement and group participation, as well as their tendency to keep up with national or international news events.

The results in this report are based on telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates among a sample of 863 individuals who contributed money to the Haiti earthquake efforts using the text messaging feature on their cell phones, and who consented to further communications at the telephone number they used to make their donation.