According to what its authors are calling the first-ever, in-depth study of mobile donors, most such donors give on the spur of the moment and don’t give too much thought to their contributions but often spur their friends on to give, too. The findings, just published, are based on analysis of the ‘Text to Haiti’ campaign following the 2010 earthquake by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet & Society. Three-quarters say that they generally make text message donations without conducting much research (in fact, most of them gave on the same day they heard about the campaign) and 43 per cent of them encouraged their friends or family members to give to the campaign as well. And Haiti wasn’t a one-off. Over half (56 per cent) have subsequently given to more recent disaster relief efforts, like the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, using their mobile phones.
Mobile donors are emerging as a new cohort of charitable givers, says the Pew Center’s press release on the matter. Certainly, giving by mobile phone is on the increase and many service providers, in the UK for instance, have moved in the last year or so to reduce or remove charges on donating and collecting donated money by text. The Haiti campaign seems to have acted as a trigger – three-quarters of respondents to the Pew survey say it was the first time they had texted a charitable donation. Rob Faris of the Berkman Center claims that the findings ‘have vast implications for non-profits, other cause-related charities, and even philanthropists…. 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.’ In her recent blog on the subject, Lucy Bernholz wonders if these ‘roaming reflexive donors’, as she calls them, might not become the new norm. For the moment, however, it seems that Rob Faris’s implications will be confined to disaster relief and very public causes.
As the findings show, mobile donors are not inclined to be very strategic about their giving. Report author Aaron Smith of the Pew Internet Project points out that ‘mobile giving is often an “impulse purchase” in response to a major event or call to action’. Most of those who donated to the Haiti campaign have been what the Pew Center’s press release rather euphemistically describes as ‘lightly engaged’ with the ongoing reconstruction efforts or with the organization to which they made their donation. Only 3 per cent say they have followed reconstruction efforts ‘very closely’. As Lucy Bernholz points out, however, what they certainly do is mobilize others to give and she raises the question of the role of information – if, she wonders, ‘the order of action on mobile giving is “give, tell, move on”, where does information fit in? And should the goal be to inform the key people in any given network, as it’s their opinion, recommendations and tweets that will influence others?’