By Zach Halper
Americans are increasingly using their smartphones for monetary contributions. A new study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project revealed that those who use this method of giving tend to make the decision to donate without much, if any, research.
The study, “Real Time Charitable Giving,” was conducted in partnership with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, the mGive Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Some 863 individuals who contributed money for the 2010 Haiti earthquake relief efforts were surveyed.
The goal of Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is to study the impact technology has on social and civic issues. Aaron W. Smith, research associate for the project and author of the study, said the survey was conducted because it provided a “nice overlap between the social impact of technology and civic engagement.”
Soon after the earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, organizations such as the American Red Cross ran campaigns on TV urging viewers to make a small donation (usually $5 to $10) simply by texting a keyword to a listed number. That strategy appears to have worked, as 89 percent of respondents said they first heard about fundraising campaigns for the disaster on television. By comparison, only 4 percent heard the news via the Internet, while only 2 percent mention the radio, text messages, or posts on social networking sites such as Facebook.
“People get their information from many different sources these days,” said Smith. “Television just happens to be the one that they remember the most.” Smith also theorized that the tragic images presented in the commercials might have played a role in spurring people to action. “I think that one of the reasons we saw such an outpouring of mobile donations was the fact that this was a big, visible tragedy combined with the fact that as people were watching these images on TV they could simply reach into their pocket and make a contribution to the relief efforts.”
The decision to contribute money to a cause is usually something donors don’t take lightly, but it wasn’t the case in this situation. In fact, 50 percent of those who heard about the relief efforts via television made their pledge immediately. An additional 23 percent donated on the same day they heard about the campaign, and 20 percent waited between a day and a week. Only 5 percent waited more than a week to donate. Yet, even those donors who didn’t contribute immediately did not necessarily use that time for additional research. In fact, when asked if they took this time to see how their money would be spent, 70 percent said they did not do this research. Given that half of those surveyed donated immediately, just 14 percent researched where their money would be going.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.