Why You Should Ignore Mobile Giving

June 13, 2011

Posted in Fundraising and Technology.

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/moriza/126238642/

I get a lot of questions about hot new things like Twitter (which isn’t that new, but people are still figuring out what to do with it), QR codes, etc.

One of my favorites is mobile. And for many of us, we think specifically about mobile giving.

How it works

You send a text message to a non-profit and it makes a $5 or $10 donation. The donation is processed by your cell phone company, who then pays out to the non-profit.

The good and the bad

The biggest and best example is the Red Cross Haiti disaster and their success in raising $30 million from SMS donations (in case you were wondering, SMS is the term for text messaging).

But as many have pointed out, the Red Cross is a special case. We’re not the Red Cross. They had Michelle Obama advocating for them. They had national campaigns. And frankly, they raised more through the usual online donation system.

The problems

First, you’ve got $5 or $10 limits per donation. These are imposed by the mobile providers. Next, the donations sit with the company until a quarterly check is made out to the non-profit. So you have a delay before you get paid. Finally, there are often limits to how many donations a person can make per month.

I don’t know about you, but $5 or $10 isn’t a lot of money – even for a first time donor. So a major worry many of us have is that the SMS donation will cost us a larger gift that might have come in otherwise.

The New York Times wrote about the rush to set up mobile giving programs, and one group came to the same conclusion I did: “there are still too many barriers to doing successful cellphone fund-raising.”

If some of the rules change, we should look at it again. But for now, it’s just another shiny object to distract us from our fundraising fundamentals – communicating our mission, building relationships, and helping donors understand how best to support us.


  1. Andrew — November 10, 2011

    This article is a joke and tries to shine a negative light on an extremely valuable platform. While i do agree their are some things that need to be improved, the mobile platform should be viewed holistically, whereby it is not only a platform to raise money but also a donor engagement platform. In rebuttal to the comment that a $5 or $10 gift will cost you, that couldnt be further from the truth. That is a big assumption which is not backed up by facts. The truth of the matter is a young person who gives a text donation would never of given otherwise, this great new tool opens doors to a whole new generation of donor that are happy to give via their mobile device as it is an affordable micro donation.

  2. Chas Grundy — November 11, 2011

    Thanks for the comment. You raise a good point about new donors. For organizations with a lot of fans but low donor support, mobile donations (despite the low donation amount) can provide something valuable. Sometimes the important thing is the donor information – not the dollars themselves. Acquiring a new donor can be an expensive prospect, and mobile giving can be a way to acquire donors by giving them a low hurdle. That said, I haven’t found research or other evidence that a $5 or $10 mobile donation actually leads to bigger giving. Perhaps people just haven’t figured out how to connect those dots yet, but with the current rules I still believe mobile giving isn’t right for many, many organizations.

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