Mobile donations have been a hot topic ever since they were used by The Red Cross and others to collect large sums of money to help with earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. But disaster relief is not the only sector that can benefit from the ease of use of mobile payments and donations.

Popular radio show This American Life used mobile donations at the end of last year to double the number of donations brought in to fund their free podcast. And while that boost may not have been significant on the show’s bottom line, the success of the program shows how much easier mobile makes it for consumers to give small sums of money. 

This American Life is a popular show. The Public Radio International show attracts about 1.7 milion listeners a week and holds fundraising drives twice a year to help its programming. The ease of texting in a mobile payment made it easier for people who are fans of the show to give quickly and painlessly.

Producers of the show worked with mobile marketing platform Mobile Commons to implement the payment system. After hearing a solicitation to donate from host Ira Glass, listeners could text the word “LIFE” to shortcode 25383 to automatically donate $5. The charge automatically goes through and shows up on the listener’s monthly cellphone bill.

Seth Lind, production manager for “This American Life” told MediaShift:

“We were mostly just curious to see what would happen. Our theory was
that the ease of giving that way would be really attractive to people,
coupled with the fact that a lot of people are listening to the show,
or the podcast, on a device they can text with. Our traditional way of
asking for donations on a podcast was sending people to a website — if
you’re out jogging, you’re not really going to do that. But if you’re
out jogging listening to the show on your iPhone or another smartphone
that plays media, maybe you would stop and take the 30 seconds or less
to send a text. We thought that it could lower the bar for people and
make it a lot easier to donate.”

Well, it worked. This American Life raised $142,225 from 28,445 individual donations, which is more than double the number of donations the show received from its drive earlier in the year (20,000). For the December campaign, more than 40,000 people donated either online or through their phones.

The problem with giving a set donation fee, of course, is that doners often give the default and no more. In this instance, the December campaign actually brought in the same total amount as the June campaign.

While online listeners could donate as much as they’d like, it appears the mobile donors stuck to the $5 fee and did not repeat payments. The next fundraiser begins in June of this year, and This American Life plans to set the mobile donation charge at $10 to bring in more money.

Despite the lower donation amount, the wider base of donors means that the program reached a large subset of people that were not drawn in by the various payment methods available to them before. Moreover, they now have additional donors to hit up for their next round of fundraising.

Lind tells MediaShift:

“We had a sense that there are a bunch of people out there who want to
give who don’t use our website, who just download the podcasts…This
is just a way for people who don’t use our website to give. And while
there was some poaching of people who would have otherwise given on the
website, it is largely a new group of people — like I said, it doubled
the number of people giving.”