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January 12 2012


Pew Studies the Power of Text-Based Donations After Haiti Quake

A simple text message can have a big impact. Mobile giving makes it easy to donate almost instantaneously after disaster strikes -- users authorize a mobile donation by texting a keyword to a specific short code, and the donation is then billed to the donor's mobile phone bill, eventually ending up with the nonprofit of choice.


Following the devastating Haitian earthquake of 2010 that left more than 200,000 people dead and more than 1 million Haitians homeless, mobile donations to Haiti totaled more than $43 million -- the first time mobile giving went mainstream in the United States on a large scale.

On the two-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, the Pew Internet Project has released "Real Time Charitable Giving," a report that delves into mobile giving and donors' motivations in the U.S.

The report, a collaboration among the Pew Internet Project, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Knight Foundation, and the mGive Foundation, aims to provide a window into the motivations, benefits, and potential pitfalls of mobile giving campaigns.

Drawn from a sample of 863 individuals who made a mobile donation to the "Text for Haiti" campaign, the survey covers why the users gave, how they learned about the mobile donation campaign, how likely they were to share information about their mobile donation, and how likely they were to remain engaged with relief efforts.

Key Findings

Many of the contributors to the Text for Haiti campaign were first-time mobile givers; 74% of the respondents said that the earthquake response was the first time they had used a mobile device for charitable giving. Many of the users went on to contribute to other relief efforts (such as the Japanese tsunami and the BP Gulf oil spill) through mobile donations, with 56% of the respondents saying they had continued to use mobile donations for other efforts.

Some of the key benefits of mobile giving are the ease of the transaction and the relatively small donation amounts, which make it an easy impulse decision; 73% of respondents donated the same day they heard about the campaign, and 50% of those users donated immediately upon hearing about it. The ease of mobile giving also encouraged the donors to spread the word about the campaign to their social groups; 43% of the surveyed mobile donors reported that they encouraged their friends and family to make mobile donations as well.

Unsurprisingly, the report found that mobile giving attracted a younger, more diverse, and more technologically savvy group of donors compared with the typical nonprofit donor. The majority of the respondents were also more familiar with the little computers in their pockets, using their phones in more ways than just texting or calling (such as taking photos, accessing the mobile web and social networking sites, sending and receiving emails, etc). Less than 40% of average U.S. mobile users use these features.

A downside to the mobile giving campaign was respondents' limited long-term engagement with relief efforts and news following their initial donations; 43% of participants reported that they were following the reconstruction efforts "not too closely," while 15% were following them "not at all." Furthermore, the impulse decision to make a mobile donation meant that there was minimal research into relief efforts before the donation, with only 14% of respondents saying they had researched where the money would go before making their mobile donation.

The spur-of-the-moment nature of mobile donations and the ease of the transaction make mobile giving an easy way to reach a large number of donors, despite the challenges.

Image courtesy of the United Nations Development Programme and used under the Creative Commons license.

May 13 2011


Mapping the Japan Earthquake to Help Recovery Efforts

In the days following the earthquake in Japan, members of the Business Civic Leadership Center pledged more than $240 million to aid response and recovery efforts. Their challenge was to figure out how to dispense that money to the projects and people who needed it most. To help them visualize the scope of the disaster and identify the areas that were most affected, we developed an interactive map of the aftershocks felt at more than magnitude 5.0 in the days after the initial 9.0 quake.

Interactive maps like this are great for communicating a lot of information quickly and putting information in context -- in this case, the impact of an earthquake that happened halfway around the world. With the increasing availability of open data sets and new mapping technologies, it's now much easier -- and cheaper -- to build maps like this.

We built this map using the open-source map design studio TileMill, a free tool that we've written about before that allows you to create custom maps using your own data, and open data released by the United States Geological Survey.

Below is a walk-through of how we built this map and details on how you can build your own interactive map using open data and TileMill.

Finding the Data

The U.S. Geological Survey publishes data feeds of recent earthquake readings in a variety of formats. The feeds are geocoded so you can plot the epicenters of each report using longitude and latitude coordinates. For this map, we converted the RSS feed of 5.0-plus magnitude earthquakes over seven days to a shapefile and used TileMill to style the data and add interactivity. You could also download the KML feeds and load them into TileMill directly.

In addition to the point-based epicenter data, we used shapefile data of the Shakemap from the initial earthquake, which shows the ground movement and intensity of shaking caused by a seismic event. This layer provides greater context to the impact felt around the epicenter points.

Building the Map

We used TileMill to design the map and apply an interactive "hover" layer, which allows you to show information when you mouse over a point on the map -- in this case, the epicenter of an aftershock. Below is a look at the editing interface in TileMill. For more on how interactivity works in TileMill, check out this blog post from Bonnie.

We then rendered the map to MBTiles, which is an open-file format for storing lots of map tiles and interactivity information in one file. MBTiles can be hosted on the web or displayed offline on mobile devices like the iPad. For this map, we used TileStream Hosting to host the map online. It has an embed feature that let us embed the map on an otherwise static HTML page. The embed code is also publicly available, so others can embed your map on their own site. Check out this article on O'Reilly Radar for an example of this in action. You can make your own embed of this map by clicking on "embed" here.

Adding Advanced Interactivity

By default, the interactivity in TileMill lets you select to have a "hover" or "click" style for interactivity. When you embed your map on a webpage, you can override this default behavior with some client-side code. For this site, we added some CSS styles and used JavaScript to build a timeline based on the dates in the overlays of each interactive point.

Now when you hover over a point on the embedded map, instead of the usual popup, the corresponding element in the timeline expands. This lets users see the relationship between time, space and magnitude an in intuitive way. All the code to make this work is available in the page -- just "view source" to check it out.

You can download TileMill for free here and find more documentation on how to use it at support.mapbox.com.

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