Contributors to the “Text to Haiti” earthquake relief campaign were spur-of-the-moment donors who often induced friends and family to give, too, new research finds

 Report is first in-depth study of mobile giving

WASHINGTON, DC – Charitable donations from mobile phones have grown more common in recent years. Two thirds (64%) of American adults now use text messaging, and 9% have texted a charitable donation from their mobile phone.

And these text donors are emerging as a new cohort of charitable givers. The first-ever, in-depth  study on  mobile donors –which analyzed the “Text to Haiti” campaign after the 2010 earthquake—finds that these contributions were often spur-of-the-moment decisions that spread virally through friend networks. Three quarters of these donors (73%) contributed using their phones on the same day they heard about the campaign, and a similar number (76%) say that they typically make text message donations without conducting much in-depth research beforehand.

Yet while their initial contribution often involved little deliberation, 43% of these donors encouraged their friends or family members to give to the campaign as well. In addition, a majority of those surveyed (56%) have continued to give to more recent disaster relief efforts—such as the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan—using their mobile phones.

These are among the findings of a new a new study produced by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet & Society, in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the mGive Foundation.

“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 Aaron Smith, senior research specialist at the Pew Internet Project and author of the report. “These donations come from people who are ready to give if they are moved by what they see and hear.”

Among the other key findings of this research:

  • A special, random survey of 863 donors to the “Text to Haiti” campaign finds that most of the text donors surveyed were introduced to mobile giving by the Haiti disaster, and did not donate in other ways to the reconstruction efforts. Three-quarters say that their donation to Haiti earthquake relief was the first time that they had texted a charitable donation, and 80% donated using only their mobile phone (and not through other means such as online or through the mail).
  • Charitable giving in the mobile age is a social activity that occurs primarily through offline channels. Of those who encouraged a friend or family member to donate, three quarters (75%) did so by talking with others in person—that’s twice the number who sent a text message encouraging others to donate (34% did this) and more than three times the number who did so by posting on a social networking site (21%).
  • Most of these Haiti-related donors have been only lightly engaged with the ongoing reconstruction efforts or with the organization to which they made their donation. Six in ten of these Haiti text donors have not followed the ongoing reconstruction efforts closely after making their donation, and just 3% say they have followed these efforts “very closely”. Additionally, a sizeable majority (80%) have not received additional follow-up communications from the organization that received their donation.
  • These donors utilize a range of methods to give money to the groups and causes that are important to them. When asked how they prefer to make charitable donations, these donors prefer text messaging (favored by 25%) and online forms (24%) only slightly to mail (22%) and in-person donations (19%). Voice calling stands out as the least preferred option, as just 6% of Haiti text donors prefer making donations over the phone.

“These findings have vast implications for non-profits, other cause-related charities, and even philanthropists,” noted Rob Faris, Research Director for the Berkman Center. “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.”

“The Red Cross campaign showed that innovation can have a transformational effect in crises,” said Amy Starlight Lawrence, Journalism and Media Innovation Program associate for Knight Foundation. “This survey, which details the story behind millions in donations, should help other non-profits develop powerful new tools to fund and execute their missions.”

The study also finds that these mobile givers are younger and more diverse compared with other charitable donors, and differ significantly from the overall population when it comes to their use of technology. They are especially likely to:

  • Own an e-reader (24% do so, compared with 9% of all US adults), laptop computer (82% vs. 57%) or tablet computer (23% vs. 10%).
  • Use Twitter (23% of the Haiti donors we surveyed who go online are Twitter users, compared with 12% of all online adults) or social networking sites (83% vs. 64%).
  • Use their phones for activities such as accessing the internet (74% do so, compared with 44% of all adult cell owners), taking pictures (96% vs. 73%) or recording video (67% vs. 34%).

Although they are unique demographically and in their technology habits, these donors differ little from the national average in terms of their overall civic engagement and group participation, as well as their tendency to keep up with national or international news events.

The results in this report are based on telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates among a sample of 863 individuals who contributed money to the Haiti earthquake efforts using the text messaging feature on their cell phones, and who consented to further communications at the telephone number they used to make their donation. The margin of sampling error is +/-3 percentage points based on Haiti text donors who consented to these additional communications.

About the Pew Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. The Pew Internet Project explores the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care and civic/political life.  The Project is nonpartisan and takes no position on policy issues. Support for the Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. More information is available at

About the Berkman Center for Internet & Society

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development. Founded in 1997, through a generous gift from Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman, the Center is home to an ever-growing community of faculty, fellows, staff, and affiliates working on projects that span the broad range of intersections between cyberspace, technology, and society.  For more information, visit

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit

About the mGive Foundation

The mGive Foundation fosters social advancement by enabling an environment for mobile technology to create efficiencies, accountability, and communication to extend the reach of the philanthropic community. Formed in October 2009, The mGive Foundation (TMF) is a 501c3 public charity registered or able to solicit contributions in all states working to enhance the mobile giving ecosystem.  TMF seeks to further cultivate the current state of mobile giving to increase efficiency, access and integration of mobile giving. For more information, visit