By Bob Allen
One in 10 Americans have made a charitable donation using the text messaging feature on their mobile phones, according to a newly-released study produced by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet & Society.
According to the study, released in January, two thirds of American adults now use text messaging, and 9 percent have texted a charitable donation.
Those donors represent a new kind of charitable giver, suggests the study, which analyzed the “Text to Haiti” campaign after the 2010 earthquake. Individuals gave an estimated $43 million for reconstruction efforts on the Caribbean island using text messaging in the weeks following the disaster.
Often the contributions were spur-of-the-moment decisions in response to images seen on television that spread virally through friend networks. Almost three quarters of donors contributed using their phones on the same day they heard about the campaign, and 76 percent said they typically make text message donations without conducting much in-depth research beforehand. And most have not paid close attention to continuing reconstruction efforts in Haiti—43 percent have been following these efforts “not too closely” and 15 percent have been following them “not at all.”
By contrast, online donations—typically on a web site—tend to involve more deliberation, as half of these donors say they generally do a good bit of research before donating money.
Yet while texters’ 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, 56 percent of those surveyed have continued to give to more recent disaster relief efforts—such as the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan—using their mobile phones.
Among other findings of the study:
• For three-quarters of Haiti text donors, their contribution to Haiti earthquake relief was the first time they had used the text messaging function on their phone to make a charitable contribution.
• Although technology helped facilitate texters’ initial donation, the donors were more likely to spread the word about their contribution through face-to-face conversations than through online means. Of those who encouraged a friend or family member to contribute, 75 percent did so by talking with others in person, and 38 percent did so via voice call. By comparison, 34 percent encouraged others to contribute by sending a text message, 21 percent did so by posting on a social networking site and 10 percent did so via email.
• Mobile givers are divided when it comes to their preferred tool for making charitable contributions. Overall, text messaging (favored by 25 percent of these Haiti text donors) and online web forms (favored by 24 percent) are most preferred, followed closely by mail (favored by 22 percent) and in-person donations (favored by 19 percent). Voice calling stands out as the least preferred option, favored by just 6 percent.
• Donors in the survey are similar to Americans as a whole when it comes to participation in social or civic groups and engagement with news, but differ when it comes to technology ownership. While they are no more or less involved with charitable or nonprofit groups than other Americans, they are much more likely to own an e-reader, laptop computer or tablet computer; use Twitter or other social networking sites; or use their phones for activities such as accessing the Internet, taking pictures, recording video or using email.
Mobile givers also are younger and more racially and ethnically diverse when compared with those who contribute through more traditional means.
A Pew Foundation analysis of the survey indicated mobile giving offers opportunities to charitable groups for reaching new donors under new circumstances, but warned it also poses challenges, including the uncertainty about whether the donors will remain engaged once they make their donation.
The Pew survey is based on telephone surveys with 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. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.