The 411 on mobile giving

A just-released study says texting donations for crises like the Haiti earthquake could become the new norm.

Kai Ryssdal: In Haiti today, it's a national day of mourning to mark the earthquake of two years ago. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid has been donated since then, most of it from foreign governments, but a good part from people through online donations, regular checks and -- for the first time -- via text message.

It's quick, easy, and according to a new study, pretty popular. Sally Herships has more on mobile giving becoming a new norm.


Sally Herships: Here’s why the Red Cross loves your cell phone.

Roger Lowe: So many people today walk around with their mobile device pretty much molded to their hands.

 Roger Lowe works for the Red Cross.

Lowe: They do everything with that. And this is a way for them to give.

After the earthquake hit Haiti, the Text to Haiti campaign raised over $40 million. Nearly one in 10 adults has donated money using a mobile phone, according to the study. It was conducted by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

One reason some people are so quick to give -- it’s easy. No checks to mail in. No online forms to fill out.

Rob Faris: It’s easier than any other way of giving. You can do it – probably takes you 10 seconds to do it.

Rob Faris is research director at the Berkman Center. He says people who texted donations to Haiti are not your typical charitable donors. For one thing, they’re much younger.

Aaron Smith: They didn’t need to own a credit card, or even have a bank account.

Aaron Smith is a researcher  at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. He says for charitable givers, donating via text is pure impulse.

Smith: They’re sitting around, they’re watching TV, or talking to their friends, and something really bad comes up. They seem images of destruction or things that really grab them in a personal way.

So they text $10, and they tell their friends about it, who also give. Roger Lowe from the Red Cross says most texted donations comes from new donors. Researcher Aaron Smith says it can be hard for charities to forge long-term relationships with impulse givers. But they can be counted on to be close to their phones when disasters happen.

In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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