“This American Life” Doubled Number of Donations Using Haiti Model of Mobile Giving

Radio show This American Life managed to double their number of donations thanks to mobile donations, proving once and for all that we’re unbelievably lazy even in our charitable pursuits.

This American Life


Funny/sad/thought provoking/brilliant/informative/infographable public radio show This American Life (oh wait, I forgot to add “Peabody-Award-Winning!) is in less danger than a lot of public radio shows, because it’s great and everyone rightfully loves it. But it’s still available as a free podcast, and given its popularity, that hosting costs lots of money. So the show has two fundraisers per year by necessity.

As an experiment, in December 2009 the show tried out a new mobile giving method of donation. Mobile giving allows people to text a certain code to a certain number, and a certain amount of money will be charged onto their phone bill and donated to their cause of choice. It’s been used highly effectively for causes like the Haiti earthquake, and the staff of This American Life saw no reason why it shouldn’t be just as effective for a nonprofit like themselves.

The only problem: While the number of donations did double, from around 20,000 in June to 40,000 in December, the amount of money raised stayed about the same. That’s because the stock donation mobile users gave was only $5–those same people might have donated far more online. The show’s producers were happy with the results anyway (saying they liked that more people were donating, even if it was less per donation), but the show will raise the stock amount to $10 per text come the next fundraising drive.

It’s a great system: I listen to lots of public radio, but it’s always when I’m out and about and I usually forget that I’d wanted to donate by the time I’m in front of a computer and able to do so. But if I could just send a text (with the same device on which I’m listening to the radio, even), I’d be much more likely to donate.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.