A simple text message can have a big impact. Mobile giving makes it easy to donate almost instantaneously after disaster strikes — users authorize a mobile donation by texting a keyword to a specific short code, and the donation is then billed to the donor’s mobile phone bill, eventually ending up with the nonprofit of choice.

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The aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Following the devastating Haitian earthquake of 2010 that left more than 200,000 people dead and more than 1 million Haitians homeless, mobile donations to Haiti totaled more than $43 million — the first time mobile giving went mainstream in the United States on a large scale.

On the two-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, the Pew Internet Project has released “Real Time Charitable Giving,” a report that delves into mobile giving and donors’ motivations in the U.S.

The report, a collaboration among the Pew Internet Project, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Knight Foundation, and the mGive Foundation, aims to provide a window into the motivations, benefits, and potential pitfalls of mobile giving campaigns.

Drawn from a sample of 863 individuals who made a mobile donation to the “Text for Haiti” campaign, the survey covers why the users gave, how they learned about the mobile donation campaign, how likely they were to share information about their mobile donation, and how likely they were to remain engaged with relief efforts.

Key Findings

Many of the contributors to the Text for Haiti campaign were first-time mobile givers; 74% of the respondents said that the earthquake response was the first time they had used a mobile device for charitable giving. Many of the users went on to contribute to other relief efforts (such as the Japanese tsunami and the BP Gulf oil spill) through mobile donations, with 56% of the respondents saying they had continued to use mobile donations for other efforts.

Some of the key benefits of mobile giving are the ease of the transaction and the relatively small donation amounts, which make it an easy impulse decision; 73% of respondents donated the same day they heard about the campaign, and 50% of those users donated immediately upon hearing about it. The ease of mobile giving also encouraged the donors to spread the word about the campaign to their social groups; 43% of the surveyed mobile donors reported that they encouraged their friends and family to make mobile donations as well.

Unsurprisingly, the report found that mobile giving attracted a younger, more diverse, and more technologically savvy group of donors compared with the typical nonprofit donor. The majority of the respondents were also more familiar with the little computers in their pockets, using their phones in more ways than just texting or calling (such as taking photos, accessing the mobile web and social networking sites, sending and receiving emails, etc). Less than 40% of average U.S. mobile users use these features.

A downside to the mobile giving campaign was respondents’ limited long-term engagement with relief efforts and news following their initial donations; 43% of participants reported that they were following the reconstruction efforts “not too closely,” while 15% were following them “not at all.” Furthermore, the impulse decision to make a mobile donation meant that there was minimal research into relief efforts before the donation, with only 14% of respondents saying they had researched where the money would go before making their mobile donation.

The spur-of-the-moment nature of mobile donations and the ease of the transaction make mobile giving an easy way to reach a large number of donors, despite the challenges.

Image courtesy of the United Nations Development Programme and used under the Creative Commons license.

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