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Americans Giving to Japan: Preliminary Findings in New Survey Track Americans’ Response in First Two Weeks after Disaster

The March/April print and online
editions of PA TIMES featured several articles on the aftermath of the
devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. Contact
Christine McCrehin, [email protected], to find out how to receive the
paper. See the Related Articles box for links to read more of the featured articles.

Eva M. Witesman

The Center on Philanthropy estimates that within the first two weeks after the March 11, 2011, earthquake in Japan, charities had raised more than $106.2 million in support for recovery efforts. Initial findings from a recent survey provide more information about how, when, and how much individual Americans are giving.

Specifically, we have a better idea about the average amount of individual contributions to support Japan, how many people are inviting friends and coworkers to give, how people found out about the disaster, and how they are finding out about ways to donate. The data also provides a snapshot of new fundraising methods like texting to donate and the relative impact of social media in raising awareness and funding for relief efforts in Japan. The random national survey of approximately 500 American adults was conducted online by researchers at Brigham Young University.

Individual Giving
Within two weeks of the disaster, about a quarter of surveyed Americans had donated money to support Japan, with an additional 14 percent who had not yet donated but intended to give in the future. Of those who had already given, more than half indicated that they planned to donate more money.

The average reported individual monetary donation within the first two weeks was about $72, with a median of $26 (meaning that about half of all respondents gave more than $26 and about half gave less). When asked how much total money they expected to donate for relief efforts, including past and future donations, the average individual expected donation more than doubled to just over $200, with a median of $50. To put this in perspective, note that a recent study, “After Haiti Earthquake, TV Informed People How to Give,” estimates the average total individual contribution, after one year, to have been about $143 with a median of $40. The America Gives survey report estimated the average individual contribution after September 11 to have been $134, with a median of $50.

The survey also asked individuals to indicate whether or not they had donated money to other previous disasters. About 23 percent reported having donated after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; 31 percent reported giving after Hurricane Katrina, and 23 percent reported giving in support of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Reaching Americans
Despite the growing impact of web pages and social media, the predominant means of reaching Americans continues to be television. About 82 percent of respondents indicated having heard about the disaster in Japan via television (including cable and internet tv) as compared with 64 percent who heard about it on websites other than social media and 18 percent who heard about the disaster through social media websites (such as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace).

Soliciting Support
About 66 percent of respondents indicated having been solicited for some type of support for disaster relief in Japan. Of those who reported having been solicited for monetary donations in behalf of Japan, 65 percent report having been solicited via television programs or commercials, about 51 percent report having been solicited via web pages or web-based advertising (excluding social media websites).

A strong body of research on philanthropy has indicated that people are most likely to donate money or time if they are asked to do so, particularly if the solicitation is made in person. Of the 48 percent who report having been invited to donate money to support Japan, only about 19 percent report having been asked to donate money by friends or coworkers. About 13 percent of the people surveyed said they had actively encouraged others to donate or volunteer.

Americans appear to have been more willing to invite friends and coworkers to pray or send positive thoughts to the people of Japan, than to ask them to donate money. Of the 54 percent of Americans who report having been solicited for prayers or positive thoughts in behalf of the people of Japan, about half report that they were solicited for prayers or positive thoughts by friends or coworkers in personal conversations. In all, about half of the Americans surveyed indicated that they had offered prayers or positive thoughts on behalf of the people of Japan.

Texting to Donate
Texting to donate is a fundraising avenue growing in popularity. The survey results suggest that texting to donate is more effective among donors who gave within the first two weeks and less effective among donors who are planning to give in the future. About 11 percent of givers indicated that they had texted to donate or planned to text to donate in the future. Of those who had already given, 15 percent had texted to donate. Of those who had not yet given but planned to give in the future, only about 4 percent intended to text to donate. Since most text-to-donate solicitations offer a specific donation amount (generally about $10) and require givers to remember both a specific message (e.g. TSUNAMI) and a short phone number, it makes sense that this donation method would appeal most to donors who want to respond immediately to the solicitation.

Lessons Learned
Americans are responding to the disaster in Japan much as they have to other large-scale disasters: immediately. Charities seeking funding support for operations after large-scale disasters must be prepared to reach potential donors almost as soon as the event occurs. Of those who gave financial support for relief efforts in Japan, half said they had first gave within the first two days after the disaster, and about 93 percent said they had donated within the first week.

Technological advances in communication, including cellphone texting and social media appear to be growing in popularity, but still hold unlocked potential. Organizations seeking to capitalize on these approaches may consider actively suggesting that people invite their friends or coworkers to donate via Facebook posts, Tweets, texts, and the like. Many organizations have focused primarily on developing their own organizational pages in order to communicate with potential donors. However, the multiplier effect of “going viral” is more likely to occur if individuals are updating their own social media in the organization’s behalf.

The survey was conducted as part of an ongoing research on disaster response voluntarism and philanthropy being conducted by researchers at the Romney Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University. The study on early giving to Japan will be followed by a survey conducted approximately two months post-disaster to see how giving patterns change over time. The Japan surveys are patterned after a survey that was launched in January of this year, one year after the earthquake in Haiti. In addition to data on monetary support, the surveys examine volunteer patterns and in-kind giving. The research also explores how and when respondents receive their information about giving opportunities and the impact this has on how, when, and how much they give. Researchers expect to release a full report on the Japan data following administration of the second survey in May, 2011.

For more information, contact the principal investigator, Eva Witesman, at [email protected].

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