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July 7, 2010, 4:30 p.m.

Attention nonprofits: Young adults love texting donations

This afternoon the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a study on Americans’ mobile device and wireless habits. The full report has many interesting figures, but I’m going to zoom in on just one portion that signals an important trend for nonprofit journalism.

Pew asked survey participants whether they had ever made a charitable contribution via text message. A surprising 10 percent of all cell phone users have. When you look at young people, it gets even more interesting: 19 percent of 18 to 29 year olds have made a charitable donation via text. Other age groups text donations considerably less: 10 percent of 30 to 49 year olds, 8 percent of 50 to 64 year olds, and 4 percent of 65 and up.

I emailed with Peter Panepento, the web editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, to put the 19-percent figure in perspective. Surprisingly, he says 26 percent of people in their twenties have mailed in a donation in the last two years. (Who knew 20-somethings were so generous! And so likely to use the mail!) “What’s startling about that number [the 19 percent] is the fact that it is catching up with other forms of giving so quickly,” Panepento wrote. “Giving through mobile phones is still in its infancy and only a small percentage of charities even have the ability to set up mobile-giving programs. These programs are still too expensive for most groups, whereas direct mail and checkout-counter-style giving is a huge part of how most nonprofit groups raise money.”

The survey also showed differences among demographic groups in donation texting. Of cell phone users of all ages, 23 percent of English-speaking Latinos have sent a charitable text, 16 percent of African Americans and 7 percent of whites. Pew has previously found similar racial differences among mobile news consumers.

Here’s the question for journalism: Can nonprofit news groups figure out a way to cash in on the potential of mobile fundraising, particularly when the next generation of donors clearly like giving via their cell phones? Earlier today we an item about a new iPhone app for Boston NPR station WBUR, which is inching public radio closer to mobile giving. This growth is the reason Apple’s ban on in-app donations matters: WBUR was forced to come up with a series of workarounds that complicate the process. Those aren’t quite the same as, say, texting the word “HAITI” to give ten bucks to the Red Cross.

Photo by Paul Hart used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     July 7, 2010, 4:30 p.m.
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