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Donor Fatigue for Chile? More Likely Timing, Conditions, and Human Nature Will Blunt Mobile Giving

Yesterday, Mark Walsh, on the MOBlog, asked Will Giving ‘Fatigue’ Curb Chile Text Donations?

I’m not sure that I would call it ‘fatigue,’ but I do think that we will not see even close to the response, through mobile giving and otherwise, that we had to the Haiti devastation. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • The death toll will not be even a fraction of the Haiti death count. Unfortunately, we are often motivated by big numbers. Death horrifies us and moves us to action, especially when the numbers are large. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes big is just overwhelming so we turn away because we feel helpless. In the case of a natural disaster though, it appears that helping is simple enough that we do respond. Send food. Send shelter. It’s not as though we have to create peace among warring factions or stop genocide.

  • Haiti is closer to us. Haiti is really right next door. She is a tiny cousin right off our own shores. We have had a front row seat to the turmoils in Haiti over the years, many of us have traveled there, and we had already despaired over the poverty we’ve seen there. Human nature favors the near over the far. Put something near, add massive loss of human life, and you have a powerful trigger for charitable giving.

  • Chile’s earthquake happened on the weekend. That sounds callous, but the response just took time. I heard about the earthquake when I got up on Saturday and immediately sat down at the computer and started a blog with resources about Chile, including ways to give. There was a paucity of information at that point, but I kept adding to it over the course of the day, and the next day. By Monday, things were picking up, but I was a bit amazed that so few people dropped everything to cover this disaster. Contrast that with the fact that Haiti’s earthquake happened on a Tuesday. I was behind by the time I began looking for information to blog about. The media response was huge and immediate.

  • The media response to the Chile quake is a shadow of what we saw with Haiti. If there is any fatigue here, it may be media fatigue. With Haiti, the TV coverage reached out and grabbed us by our throats and pulled us in. Aside from the media’s obsession with the tsunami that never came, that has not happened with Chile. Heck we even were glued to the Olympics hockey game the following night.

  • The response of relief agencies has been rather slow, by Haiti standards, to the Chile quake. The Red Cross didn’t get its shortcode for mobile giving out for a couple of days. Contrast that with their first mover advantage with Haiti, complemented by the White House and Michelle Obama’s PSA.

  • There are too many charities now on the mobile bandwagon this time around. During Haiti, the choices were few and the Red Cross appeal the most effective and obvious. As Chip and Dan Heath point out in their new book, Switch:How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, “decision paralysis” is a very real human problem, and charitable giving is not exempt. The Heaths point out that “More options, even good ones, can freeze us and make us retreat to the default plan…”, and too often our default is to do nothing.

If our response to the Chile quake does turn out to be tepid, it really isn’t donor fatigue, but a perfect storm of conditions that collaborated to slow down our charitable, and very human, impulses. No one is to blame. As donors and fundraisers, we probably need to find ways to overcome some of these obstacles when disaster strikes.


  • Massive Chile Earthquake – How You Can Help
  • The Logic of the Illogical: Homer Simpson For Nonprofits
  • Why People Don’t Give to Our Causes
  • Mobile Giving Creates Sonic Boom During Haiti Crisis: 4 Reasons Why

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    Donor Fatigue for Chile? More Likely Timing, Conditions, and Human Nature Will Blunt Mobile Giving originally appeared on About.com Nonprofit Charitable Orgs on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010 at 16:39:26.

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