Study Finds “Text To” May Represent a New Kind of Charitable Giving

The earthquake that struck Haiti two years ago this month was as serious a humanitarian crisis as any—but it also produced what may become a new and lasting model for the future of charitable giving.

The Haiti disaster was the first time a “text to” campaign was used in a big way to raise funds, and it generated big money, some $43 million from individual donors who used the text messaging feature on their mobile phones. The Pew Internet Project just released the first in-depth study of these mobile donors and the results have far-reaching implications for nonprofit fundraising.

Telephone surveys were conducted with 863 individuals who used the text messaging feature on their cell phones to contribute money to the Haiti earthquake efforts. The study found that a large majority (89 percent) of the donors first learned about the “Text to Haiti” effort on television, and half of them (50 percent) made a “text to” donation immediately. An additional 23 percent say they made a donation on the same day they heard about it. Three-quarters of the donors said their decision to donate via text is usually “spur-of-the-moment without conducting any research prior to giving.”

First Time Text Givers

For 74 percent of the donors, this was the first time they had used text messaging on their phones to make a charitable contribution, but it would not be the last. About one third of the donors made more than one contribution using their phones. Overall, 80 percent of the mobile givers used only their mobile phones to donate—they did not go online, call in, or mail in to make a donation.

Since making the text donation to the Haiti campaign, more than half (56 percent) of the donors said they have made additional text message contributions to other disaster relief efforts. Almost half (43 percent) of the donors encouraged friends or family members to make a similar contribution using their mobile phones. Interestingly, most of these contacts (75 percent) were made in person, while 38 percent contacted friends or family members via voice call, 34 percent via text message, 21 percent via social networking, and 10 percent via email.  Three-quarters (76 percent) of these donors said their friends or family members did in fact agree to make such a contribution.

Text Giving is Not the Norm

The fact that these donors used text messaging to respond to the Haiti campaign does not make this method an overwhelming favorite for making donations, however. Only 25 percent of these donors said they prefer to give via text messaging, while 24 percent favor online web forms, 22 percent give via traditional mail, and 19 percent give in-person. Only 6 percent of these donors prefer making donations over the phone.

The Pew Internet Project compared the Haiti text donors to the general public. A higher percentage of Haiti text donors use the Internet, own a laptop computer, own an e-reader, and own a tablet computer than the general public. They use social networking sites more (83 percent versus 64 percent), use Twitter more (23 percent vs. 12 percent) and make a donation to a charity online more often (59 percent vs. 25 percent).

The Challenge for Nonprofits

The real challenge is for nonprofits to learn how to leverage the “text to” method of donating for their own cause – and to figure out how to convert a new donor who makes this kind of impulse donation into a regular contributor. As the Pew Internet Project says:

“This new mode of engagement offers opportunities to philanthropies and charitable groups for reaching new donors under new circumstances as messages spread virally through friend networks. At the same time, it poses new challenges, including the uncertainty in fund-raising groups about whether these new donors will remain engaged once they make their donation.”

Given the right circumstances, “text to” could represent a potent new way for nonprofits to take advantage of real time charitable giving.

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