Will Americans embrace mobile for political donations?

By October 31, 2012
Hand holding a smartphone with grass and tree on top

Americans have been very responsive to contribution requests from charities and political campaigns. But the true value of this category will emerge if groups can keep mobile users engaged with their cause or candidate.

The spread of mobile technology has benefitted industries previously thought unrelated, especially through the applications of SMS. While many people have made contributions to causes or organizations online (20 percent), a sizeable and growing amount are donating through their mobile phone (9 percent). Pew Research Center’s findings on mobile giving showed that the phenomenon played a prominent role in relief following the January 2010 Haiti earthquake with about $43 million sent from cell phones. Since June, the Federal Election Commission has allowed political campaigns to receive donations from mobile devices, and both presidential candidates have adopted mobile as a donation channel. Since mobile devices have prove relatively successful for social donations, can we expect the same to happen for political donations?

Offline methods dominate, but mobile has some potential

13 percent of American adults contribute to presidential political campaings as of September of this year. Of those 13 percent, 67 percent did so in person, over the phone, or through the mail, and 50 percent did so online or through email. Ten percent used SMS amounts to 1 percent of the general adult population. Taking political party into consideration, while the same number of Democrats as Republicans are likely to make a contribution regardless of method, Democrats are much more likely to use online or mobile channels. While mobile donations for political campaigns are very new, the success of social donations might announce a similar evolution for political campaigns donations. However, the main challenge for those two types of mobile donations is keeping users engaged.

Converting “impulsive” donations into long term enagement

By far the most important quality of mobile giving is convenience. Pew dubs the behavior that facilitates the ability to send small donations from mobile as “impulse giving,” as it often follows exposure to advertisements or other motivating content. Impulse giving has offered opportunities for charitable organizations and political groups, but it poses challenges. Groups will find it difficult to predict whether participants will remain engaged. In the case of the Text to Haiti effort, most contributed after learning about it from TV commercials (89 percent), and half contributed immediately after finding out about Text to Haiti. But engagement drops off quickly - 43 percent follow efforts “not too closely” and 15 percent follow them “not at all.” Hence the challenge is to convert these impulsive givers into engaged donors. 


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