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Lucy Bernholz at Philanthropy 2173 makes some fascinating reflections on the impact of technology on giving vis a vis the Haitian earthquake relief efforts.
I confess a huge amount of skepticism when I had first heard that one could donate to the relief effort via text messaging on your cell phones. I wondered how much the phone companies were profiting off this and how big a cut the donation processors would be taking. Apparently I wasn’t the only one because according to Bernholz, the phone companies have waived the fees under pressure of public opinion.
She also talks about the possibility that those who received funds may be under greater scrutiny. I remember after Hurricane Katrina, many people were horrified to learn how great a percentage of their donations were going to administrative overhead at the Red Cross and similar organizations. The Red Cross has shown some transparency by tweeting near real time updates of the climbing donation totals. Bernholz suggests that Twitter may become the platform where this is not only reported–but where people also question what has been done with the money.
The suggestion that really grabbed my attention was her idea that technology might cause/allow people to acquire “Donor Attention Deficit Disorder”
That people all over the world can be so instantly engaged and moved to donate is certainly a good thing. But does it come with costs?
On Wednesday, January 13, #Haiti was a trending topic on Twitter all day (a measure of what the millions of tweets are discussing). By Thursday, January 14, it was gone. Does the ability to give instantly and painlessly (mobile donors won’t even see a charge for the gift until they get their next phone bill) make it extra easy to give and move on? Will “donor fatigue” be replaced by “donor A.D.D.?”
The concept that even tragedies have only 15 minutes of fame before people move on is pretty chilling. If the best tactic for successful fund raising is providing people with an opportunity to give at the point where the emotional appeal is greatest, it is going to be increasingly difficult to sustain any sort of long term support. And how long will it be before people become inured to solicitations of calculated to concentrate a great deal of emotional response in a short span. Such an approach might stunt efforts to gather support for true tragedies.
It probably doesn’t help that we are told to just give money. Granted, in this case, it just isn’t practical to become physically involved. Much less so that after Hurricane Katrina. There is also something of an underlying message that once you have given, you no longer need to be engaged with the problem. All you are being asked to do is just give money and you can accomplish that by doing something you enjoy doing everyday–text a number.