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The truth about mobile donations

By Jenifer Snyder

Some misconceptions have been recently shared about the effectiveness of mobile donations. And I would like to clear up any confusion that exists right now.

I will start by specifically addressing an article that ran in Mobile Commerce Daily back in April. The headline read: “Why the lackluster mobile giving for Japan’s crises?”

The article claims that “As the crises surrounding the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan unfold, mobile giving has not been quite as prevalent as it was just a year ago for Haiti.”

I beg to differ.

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In fact, information about how to donate via your mobile device was everywhere, from listings on the Red Cross Web site to online articles in Forbes and on

Many articles that discussed how to donate to help Japan focused either solely or partially on how to donate money via your mobile phone.

The truth is that all forms of giving – including traditional channels such as online giving and mail-based donations – brought in significantly fewer dollars during the Japan crisis than during the 2010 crisis in Haiti.

In fact, according to a CNN Money story, about four days after the Japan earthquake hit, donations to victims in Japan had reached $25 million, while donations for victims in Haiti reached more than $150 million in the same time frame. And no one really knows the reason why.

Now some have suggested that the reason that fewer dollars were donated to victims in Japan is because text messaging actually played too large of a role in the donation process.

The idea is that because text-based donations are limited to $10 per donation, they might have potentially cannibalized larger donations via other sources.

Wrong again. 

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First, in reality, mobile donations did not play a bigger role in raising money for disaster victims in Japan than they did for Haiti.

Mobile’s role in raising funds for Japan victims was about the same as it was for the Haiti crisis.

In those first few days of giving, mobile donations represented about 8 percent of the total donations made to Japan versus 8.3 percent of total donations raised for Haiti.

Second, the large majority of donors have indicated that text-based donations do not keep them from donating larger amounts via other channels.

In a survey commissioned by the mGive Foundation, 80 percent of survey respondents who were regular online and/or direct mail donors indicated that donating money via text would not keep them from giving a larger amount via their “regular” channels.

So why do I feel compelled to dispel the current myths surrounding mobile donations?

Because I am afraid that nonprofits who believe these myths could limit their fundraising effectiveness by ignoring what is already becoming a widely used and very successful fundraising channel.

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In the last few years, mobile donations have been growing at a much faster pace than other donations channels when they were first introduced.

For example, in 1998, the year after online donations first became a viable fundraising channel, $350,000 was raised via online donations.

Compare that to this number: In 2009, the year after mobile donations were first introduced, more than $1.5 million in funds were raised via text-based giving. 

In 1999, after people had been donating funds online for three years, $1.1 million was raised via the online giving channel.

In contrast, in 2010, the third year that donations could be made via mobile phones, a whopping $42 million was raised.

So three years after text-based giving first became available, the mobile donation fundraising channel has already raised more than 30 times as many dollars as the online donation channel did when it was in its infancy.

This is a testament to how quickly text-based donations are growing.

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This fast-growing mobile donation channel actually saved some nonprofits from shutting their doors during the great recession, including one worldwide healthcare organization that received much-needed operating funds only after sponsoring a prime-time mobile donation event.

This channel attracts new donors – donors who otherwise likely would not have contributed any funds at all.

In fact, last year through the mGive Foundation, we processed donations from more than 7.7 million unique individuals.

And according to our survey, text is already the preferred method of charitable giving for 18 percent of respondents, compared to 60 percent for email and 22 percent for direct mail.

The bottom line is that in the next few years, nonprofits who do not fully exploit mobile donation as a fundraising channel will lose out. I urge you not to let this happen to your organization.

Jenifer Snyder is executive director of The mGive Foundation, Denver, CO. Reach her at [email protected].