Google Survey Reveals Patterns Of How We Donate Money Online

We’re used to a barrage of charitable solicitations around the holiday season. But among other findings, Google’s study shows that many people actually make giving decisions months before.

Google Survey Reveals Patterns Of How We Donate Money Online
[Image: Pixels via Shutterstock]

I spend most of my day in front of a computer screen. If a compelling nonprofit emails me or pops up in my browser, I’m likely to pay attention. But direct mail? It may get a couple glances before heading to the recycling bin. I’m not alone.


In a survey released this week, Google tracked consumer search patterns, analyzed nonprofit donation behavior, and talked to nonprofit researchers about their survey behavior.

Some of the results are predictable–but still may be news to nonprofits who are used to working offline. “This is a space that’s new to the digital realm,” says Jessie End, the head of Google’s advertising operations for customers in the nonprofit sector. “We wanted to have robust research for strategies helping them to develop.” Here’s what Google found:

People Starting Thinking About Donations Before The Holiday Season

It’s intuitive for nonprofits to want to launch ad campaigns around the holiday season–that’s when they see a big uptick of donors. But after tracking search trends around nonprofits, Google found that people actually start thinking about donating in September. In 2012, there was a 30% uptick in searches using general donation terms from August to September.

Nonprofits need to diversify through digital

Google’s research shows that donors use online resources (videos, social networks, etc.) more–and find them more useful than traditional offline resources (obviously, Google also has a business interest in this). “When you look at the data on online resources in aggregate, online was stated by survey respondents to be 20% more useful than direct mail in terms of impacting their decision to donate,” says End.

Online Video Is The Most Influential Source In Driving Donations

Some 79% of donors surveyed reported that online video ads were the most useful online media marketing they were exposed to. YouTube was, unsurprisingly, listed as the top video platform. Some other stats: Video ads tied with email ads for the highest and fastest levels of engagement. According to End, 39% of people who watch a video look up the accompanying organization within 24 hours of viewing. An impressive 57% of people who watch a video for a nonprofit go on to make a donation.

Don’t Forget About Mobile

Google found that 40% of survey respondents conduct nonprofit research on their phones, and 25% make donations through their cell phones–mostly by opening up a web browser and going to a donation site, not through text message donations.


Donors Are Comparison Shoppers

Almost half of all donors visited at least one other nonprofit website prior to making a donation. “There’s the sense that they have a pool of nonprofits that they’re investigating, and they’re doing some comparison,” End says.

Some of the largest nonprofits are seeing these trends an important turning point for the growth of the sector. “Nonprofit organizations were born out of movements that relied heavily on our ability to engage people at a grassroots level, both to raise funds and advance our respective missions,” says Terry Macko, senior vice president of communications and marketing for the World Wildlife Fund. “The web provides unprecedented reach and brand engagement opportunities unlike anything our founders could have ever imagined.”


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.