Mobile Text Message Fundraising

June 14, 2012

Posted in Fundraising and Technology.

“How do we start collecting mobile phone numbers?” my boss asked recently. “We want to be able to connect with our donors in real-time.”

As I wrote back in 2011, mobile giving is a waste of time for most non-profits in most situations. Even if you manage to get donations through text messages, you don’t get any donor information in order to connect with them again. The process for collecting that information is incredibly messy.

I spoke with one non-profit who has been featured widely as a case study for a “successful” SMS campaign. The development director said they got a lot of publicity for using a “cutting-edge” method, but it wasn’t financially successful, having raised so little money and ending up with no donor data. They couldn’t even tell if the donors were current or new donors. They haven’t repeated the SMS campaign.

They got a lot of publicity for using a “cutting-edge” method, but it wasn’t financially successful.

SMS giving made the news this week when the Federal Election Commission approved the use of SMS fundraising for political campaigns. However, as others have noted the same obstacles remain with regard to donation limits and lack of donor data.

In March, the Obama campaign rolled out a clever new approach to mobile fundraising. Their “Quick Donate” feature lets previous donors save their credit card information (much like many e-commerce stores do) and they collect their mobile numbers. Then, you can make a donation simply by texting back a number (10 or 25 or whatever) and it will automatically bill your saved credit card for the donation.

The trick is having both the saved payment information and the donor’s mobile number on file. So this method isn’t so much for donor acquisition but it could be phenomenal for soliciting many small donations, which can be great for annual giving.

One warning I have for anyone looking to use this approach: like any medium, balance appeals and other engagement-oriented content. If all your text messages ask for money, how many donors will want to give you their mobile numbers?

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