Pew: Almost one in ten Americans have donated to charity by text

Haiti in Our Hands / Jim Vallee / Shutterstock

A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that donating to charities via mobile phone text messaging is becoming increasingly common, with nine percent of American adults now making charitable donations via text messages, with the amounts appearing on their mobile phone bills. However, what may be the most significant finding for charities looking to raise money: folks who donate via text message tend to be more diverse and more spontaneous with their giving than traditional charity supporters.

“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 Pew senior research specialist and report author Aaron Smith, in a statement. “These donations come from people who are ready to give if they are moved by what they see and hear.”

The survey was conducted by following up with donors who participated in the call for charitable relief to Haiti in the wake of the massive earthquake the crippled the already-struggling country in January 2010. A campaign urged people to donate $10 to recovery efforts by texting the word “haiti” dedicated numbers. Roughly 13 percent of the people who donated via text to the Haiti recovery effort agreed to be contacted about their charitable giving; of those, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International surveyed 863 randomly selected donors on behalf of Pew.

Pew Haiti Charitable Text Response

The study found that more than half—56 percent—of respondents have contributed via text to other disaster recovery efforts since the Haiti quake, such as the 2010 Gulf oil spill or the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Most of the donations via text are the result of impulse decisions: 89 percent of respondents said they made their contributions almost as soon as they heard about the “text to Haiti” campaign. Fully 80 percent of respondents said their contributions via text were the only contributions they made to the relief effort, and 60 percent admitted they have not followed the ongoing reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

Folks who contribute to charity via text tend to be younger, more engaged with technology, and be more racially diverse than traditional charity supporters

The study also found that word about charitable giving via text is mainly an offline activity: 75 percent of respondents who said they encouraged others to participate in a charitable campaign did so in person, where just over one third (34 percent) said they encouraged others to participate via text messaging. Only 21 percent encouraged others to participate via social networking services. Perhaps unsurprisingly, text messaging was preferred form of charitable giving amongst respondents: 25 percent said they prefer to donate via text, with online forms running a close second at 24 percent. Postal mail was the preferred form of giving with 22 percent of respondents, and 19 percent preferred in-person donations. Only six percent preferred donating over the phone.

The results of the study—if they can be generalized to everyone who participates in charitable giving by text, not just those who agreed to be surveyed—could have strong implications for non-profits and other charities. Although those inclined to give via text may be less likely to make large donations or seriously research a topic, they tend to learn about natural disasters and other tragedies rapidly and respond quickly with donations.

The study’s findings will also likely be noted by online scammers: mobile users’ willingness to quickly support charities via text in the wake of disasters could easily be exploited. Premium text messaging scams already take advantage of many consumers’ naiveté, and (for the moment, at least) are a leading class of Android malware.

[Lead image courtesy of Jim Vallee/Shutterstock; graph from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.]