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New Study Examines How Donors Give Online During Disasters

(Aug. 28, 2006) A new study examines how donors give online to help support disaster relief efforts and provides guidance for charities seeking to raise funds online.

While Internet fundraising accounts for a very small percentage of overall annual giving, it is rapidly becoming donors’ preferred way of giving in response to disasters, according to “Impulse on the Internet: How Crisis Compels Donors to Give Online,” produced by Bethesda, Md.-based Network for Good, a nonprofit giving portal.

With its convenience and quick-turnaround time, the Internet is an ideal choice for giving during disasters, as evidenced by increased traffic and donations on websites during these times. In addition, online donors tend to be more generous than offline donors: the average online gifts in the study was $125, while the average offline gift was $27.

However, the study notes that the large spike in online giving typically drops dramatically within a very short timeframe, typically two to six days. Charities must be ready and set up for online donation processing before a crisis hits, as the window of opportunity is quite narrow.

Driving Donors

Most donors give online in response to news coverage and articles they see, especially items on the Internet. Half of all Network for Good’s traffic during disasters comes from links with Yahoo! and AOL, as well as sites such as CNN and USA Today.

The particular slant of a news story also can affect giving to certain organizations. For example, after several news stories covering pets that were left behind during Hurricane Katrina, contributions to animal welfare organizations increased dramatically.

Charities should also realize that many disaster donors are in a hurry to give and want to be able to give quickly, according to the study. Text-heavy appeals and dense websites are not recommended; nonprofits can fill in many of the details in their thank-you letters, especially information regarding the impact of donors’ contributions.

However, even donors who are in a hurry to give may still be receptive to recurring gift programs. According to Network for Good, the site now receive more than $100,000 per month in automatic monthly gifts, many of which were started during Hurricane Katrina and other crises. Charities should consider posting information on their websites about these giving programs and make it easy for donors to participate.

Donors Value Choice

While most donors supported larger, more well-known organizations during disasters, many were likely to give to other organizations if given the choice. Overall, 80 percent of all Hurricane Katrina contributions were made to the American Red Cross, while 20 percent went to other charities. However, donors to Network for Good, which featured dozens of disaster-relief charities, gave 60 percent of their contributions to the American Red Cross and 40 percent to other organizations.

Because donors may not know of smaller organizations working on disaster relief (or how to reach them), these charities should be sure they are listed on portals like Network for Good.

Finally, the study notes that donor/compassion fatigue was simply not a significant factor for most donors. Non-disaster relief giving in 2005 increased from the previous year, and that 2005’s holiday giving was the highest in Network for Good’s history despite so many crises occurring during the year. These findings confirm what AFP has found in its own State of Fundraising Surveys and other studies. 

About the Study

An executive summary of the study is available on the Network for Good website, and a full copy of the study will be available in late August.

Network for Good is a nonprofit giving portal (and a 501(c)(3) organization) that that includes detailed listings of more than one million U.S. charities through GuideStar and a searchable VolunteerMatch database of more than 38,000 volunteer opportunities.

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