August 27, 2010

Tips on Using Text Messages to Raise Money

Think about this: The American Red Cross received $32-million for Haiti relief efforts from people making donations through their cellphones. Among those donors, 1.3 percent agreed to receive e-mails from the organization. That means 20,000 new donors, 95 percent of whom had never previously supported the Red Cross.

Such results are why mobile fund raising is changing the landscape of charitable giving.

At the Direct Marketing Association's inaugural Nonprofit Mobile Day on Thursday in New York, speakers discussed how charities can take advantage of the new interest in text donations:

  • Establish your building blocks. To run a text-messaging campaign, you're going to need a short code (a five-digit number) for people to use to text their donations. It's activated by a key word, such as "Haiti" to 90999. This works on all carrier networks. (You can go to to get an account and buy a random short code, which runs $500 a month, or a vanity short code that you select, which costs about $1,000 a month). Then, connect with an aggregator, such as the Mobile Giving Foundation, which handles the text traffic and works with other carriers. Also, have a software application that can provide you with tools to run and manage your program. An example: Sumotext.
  • Watch out for missteps. Getting a text-to-give campaign up and running takes careful planning. It may take three to four months to get approval for a short code by the carriers, so allow for extra time. Also, make sure those key words ("Haiti") are easy to spell and easy to remember. Do not choose a keyword with a combination of letters and numbers, such as "Give10," since many people don't know how to switch modes on their cellphones. More important, test out the keyword to see if the smartphone automatically corrects it for spelling. If it does, get another one.
  • Follow the law. You cannot use the cellphone numbers of your supporters from a paper sign-up sheet. You have to ask them to opt in through their own mobile devices or through a Web form (and then they must confirm it on their cell). If you want to get additional information, such as an e-mail address, or to ask for a donation, make sure there are several prompts for them to decide to opt in. Also, allow them to easily unsubscribe or text "stop" to disengage from your mobile campaign.
  • Keep those people engaged. On July 30, the American Red Cross sent a text message to Haiti supporters who opted to receive an e-mail, encouraging them to donate for hurricane season. The appeal raised "a couple of thousand dollars," says Jana Waterworth-McAndrew, the American Red Cross's manager for online fundraising. The organization also plans to use text messages to encourage supporters to volunteer or donate blood.