Americans and Tsunami Response: New Survey Results

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Americans responded eagerly to the tragic December 2004 tsunami. Boston University students release results of a survey that studies how Americans learned of the devastation, how much they gave and how effective they believe their donations were.

The unprecedented devastation in the Indian Ocean in the closing days of 2004 created an international call for aid and charitable donations. Americans responded by the millions. A new survey designed and fielded by students at Boston University's College of Communication explores how Americans responded and finds that 46% -- nearly half -- of adults gave an average of $174 per household to help tsunami aid efforts. All told, Americans donated nearly $1.5 billion in private aid, according to an InterAction report released in May.

This student-led study examined five different elements of America's response to the tsunami:

  • Donor demographics. Surprisingly, a younger, less affluent group of donors rose to fund tsunami aid than normally participate in charitable giving. For example, the youngest donors gave an average of $324 each, nearly five times that of the oldest donors.
  • The role of television vs. the Internet. While television remains the dominant source of tsunami information, the Internet is considered the easiest to use and facilitated donations by 20% of those who gave.
  • Does knowledge matter? Two-thirds of adults believe they were well informed about the tsunami. These informed citizens gave nearly three times the money that the less informed did. However, when tested, it turns out the "informed" know no more about the tsunami than the supposedly less informed do.
  • Internet advertisements and donations. The Internet, though a powerful information medium, is inhibited from fulfilling its promise as a low-cost way for charitable organizations to receive donations because only 32% of Internet users believe it is safe to make donations online.
  • Trust in charitable organizations. Despite much hand wringing in the media about whether money donated will really reach those in need, 83% of donors believe a majority of what they gave will be delivered as promised. Furthermore, they believe that seventy-five cents of each dollar donated makes its way to those affected by the disaster.

Each of these areas was explored by students under the direction of Professor James McQuivey, former vice-president at Forrester Research and a strong believer that students learn the power of research only by doing it. "This project showed the students that their own interest in a topic as important as the tsunami can lead to important insights for government, charitable organizations and businesses, all of whom have a stake in the recovery of Southeast Asia."

More detail about each of the five studies conducted as part of this research is available upon request.

About the Survey

The survey was conducted online during the second week of March, 2005. The sample of 477 participants (252 male, 225 female) was provided by online panel company Global Market Insite and the survey was conducted using their online survey tool, Net-MR. As an online survey, the opinions reflected here only represent the two-thirds of households with regular Internet access. For comparison, the margin of error for a randomly selected sample this size is +/- 5%.

About the College of Communication at Boston University

The College of Communication at Boston University is home to the Communication Research Center where professors train undergraduate and graduate students in the science of consumer research and analysis. This project was designed by students under the supervision of Professor James McQuivey.

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Professor James McQuivey