Mobile Giving Often an Impulse Purchase, Social Activity

Charitable donations from mobile phones have grown more common in recent years. Two thirds (64%) of American adults now use text messaging, and 9% 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 (73%) contributed using their phones on the same day they heard about the campaign, and a similar number (76%) 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% of these donors encouraged their friends or family members to give to the campaign as well. In addition, a majority of those surveyed (56%) have continued to give to more recent disaster relief efforts—such as the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan—using their mobile phones.

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.”

Among the other key findings of this research:

  • Charitable giving in the mobile age is a social activity that occurs primarily through offline channels. Of those who encouraged a friend or family member to donate, three quarters (75%) did so by talking with others in person—that’s twice the number who sent a text message encouraging others to donate (34% did this) and more than three times the number who did so by posting on a social networking site (21%).
  • These donors utilize a range of methods to give money to the groups and causes that are important to them. When asked how they prefer to make charitable donations, these donors prefer text messaging (favored by 25%) and online forms (24%) only slightly to mail (22%) and in-​person donations (19%). Voice calling stands out as the least preferred option, as just 6% of Haiti text donors prefer making donations over the phone.

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 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% do so, compared with 9% of all US adults), laptop computer (82% vs. 57%) or tablet computer (23% vs. 10%).
  • Use Twitter (23% of the Haiti donors we surveyed who go online are Twitter users, compared with 12% of all online adults) or social networking sites (83% vs. 64%).
  • Use their phones for activities such as accessing the internet (74% do so, compared with 44% of all adult cell owners), taking pictures (96% vs. 73%) or recording video (67% vs. 34%).
[Source:  Study conducted 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.  12 Jan. 2012.  Web.  13 Jan. 2012.]