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Disaster Giving = On-line Giving: Highlights of a New Study

Network for Good, which processed $24.5 million in contributions for disaster relief last year, has just released an analysis of on-line disaster giving. "Impulse on the Internet: How Crisis Compels Donors to Give Online," examines why donors give on-line, on-line giving behaviors, and the implications for nonprofits that wish to raise funds on-line. The study's major findings are excerpted below; click here to read the full report.

This study is based on analysis of $24.5 million in charitable giving on-line through Network for Good in response to three major crises: the December 2004 tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, and the Pakistan earthquake of October 2005.

  • Tsunami relief: 82,000 donations totaling $11 million for 124 charities
  • Katrina relief: 107,000 donations totaling $13 million for 344 charities
  • Pakistan relief: 3,100 donations totaling $500,000 for 75 charities
Finding #1: The Internet is ideally matched to charitable giving at times of disaster, when technology can turn the impulse to help into a donation within seconds. This "impulse effect" is evinced in increased traffic, donations, and conversion rates.

Disaster giving is impulse giving. People are shocked by the disturbing words and pictures that emerge from humanitarian disasters, and they want to help in that moment. By enabling people to react immediately—when they feel moved by the unfolding story—on-line giving likely increases the rates at which feeling is converted to charitable action.

Finding #2: Disaster giving on-line follows a "fast but fleeting" pattern. The "impulse effect" spikes and drops within a short, two- to six-day time frame.

Finding #3: News coverage is a major driver of giving on-line. Half of Network for Good's traffic in crisis is driven by links with AOL and Yahoo!, with links within their news content generating the most donations.

On-line giving appears to be driven largely by news coverage, especially imbedded links within on-line news coverage. As coverage spikes and wanes, so does giving. The weeklong "impulse effect" is commensurate with the amount of time that humanitarian disasters are on the front page of daily newspapers or headlined in on-line and television coverage.

The angle of on-line and off-line news coverage also influences giving patterns. For example, stories about pets left behind during Hurricane Katrina led to $1 million in giving to animal welfare organizations like the Humane Society, Noah's Wish, and PETSMART Charities on Network for Good.

Finding #4: Whether due to the impulsive nature of on-line giving or the credit card effect, on-line donors are more generous than off-line donors.

In terms of the reasons behind the high giving levels on-line, possible explanations are the impulsive nature of disaster giving, consumers' tendency to spend more on credit cards than by check, or a wealthier demographic choosing to give on-line.

Finding #5: Big nonprofit brands win in a disaster, but donors value choice.

Most people have favorite charities that are related to their personal affinities. They may support a local church, their alma mater, an organization that fights a disease that a relative had, or a community center that helps kids from their old neighborhood. But at times of disaster, donors who want to help may not have personal experience with the organizations providing relief. This leads them to give to organizations with familiar names and strong brand recognition, unless they are presented with information on other organizations from a trusted source.

Finding #6: The Internet has created a new type of donor: the citizen philanthropist.

While fundraising was once primarily the domain of nonprofits and their corporate partners, with each crisis, Network for Good has seen an increasing number of people creating links to their favorite charities to fundraise on their behalf. The result was a thriving, if somewhat fragmented, network of people mobilizing resources. [Many] of these initiatives were fueled by a demand among donors for ways to fulfill their desire to volunteer and otherwise support relief efforts beyond financial gifts.

Finding #7: Increased fraud and media coverage of nefarious fundraisers increased donor skepticism.

While clearly a concern of donors, fear of fraud does not appear to be harming the growth of on-line giving in response to disasters—especially among the younger demographic that donates and conducts much of their personal business on-line. If anything, donors are becoming smarter and will confirm a Web site is trusted.

Finding #8: Fears of compassion fatigue may be overblown; disasters don't appear to drastically depress giving in other areas.

Most donors appear to give to crisis in addition to their regular giving both on-line and off-line.

Finding #9: A key to avoiding post-disaster dips in giving are recurring gift programs.

Implications for Nonprofits

  • Charities need to set up on-line donation processing before a crisis, because the window of opportunity is so narrow (two to six days) and leaves little time to react once disaster has struck.
  • Charities should consider offering recurring giving as an option in the donation check-out and emphasize it with donors.
  • Impulsive givers are in a hurry; they want to help quickly, so text-heavy appeals and dense Web sites are not advisable. Leave the details to thank you notes, when nonprofits can expound on the impact of donor gifts.
  • If a charity is not a big brand or relatively small, it should be sure to seek listings on sites such as Network for Good, since donors value choice yet may not know how to find lesser known relief agencies. [Note: Go to to and sign up for GuideStar, Network for Good, and VolunteerMatch tools.]
Read the full report

© 2006, Network for Good
Topics: Charitable Giving