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UNICEF embraces Square’s $Cashtags to raise funds for Nepal

The United Nations Children’s Fund quickly initiated a mobile program to raise funds to help the survivors of the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal, and while text-to-give is still playing an important role for the nonprofit, its strategy is evolving with a bigger focus on social commerce, including $Cashtags from Square.

Square introduced $Cashtags last month, enabling anyone to create a personalized name, such as $Unicef, to get paid through Square’s online payments. Including the $unicef tag in social media posts enables mobile users to quickly make a donation.

“We are looking at mobile not as a place to convert but also as a place to start conversations,” said Chris Maddocks, managing director of digital fundraising at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “Before, it was putting a short code on an ad or a tweet. It was a little bit of a spray strategy.

“One of the things that has changed the most is that mobile commerce has really move forward so much,” he said. “We’ve been working with Square and Cashtags, a frictionless approach to commerce.

“Before you had to get people from a tweet or post to a transaction. Now we are able to do it in a very, very streamlined way.”

Mobile donations
Instead of having to copy and paste a short code off of Twitter, users can click on the $unicef tag in a tweet to be taken to a page where they can input how much they want to donate and their debit card number and be done.

The process also builds in shareability, with users able to share about their donations with friends.

UNICEF expects to see approximately 20 percent of donations for the Nepal earthquake to come from mobile. However, if the situation becomes more critical, that number could increase.

“As it becomes more dire, as people are moved to give wherever they have happen to be as opposed to when they see an ad, I expect to see a fairly large shift to mobile,” Mr. Maddocks said.

Text-to-give was a large focus for nonprofits in the years immediately following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when organizations such as the Red Cross were taken by surprise by the tens of millions of dollars that were donated via mobile.

However, text-to-give’s role has changed in the past couple of years following a decision by the major wireless carriers to stop supporting premium SMS. While premium is still supported for nonprofits, the business ecosystem around premium SMS has scaled back significantly.

At the same time, nonprofits’ mobile strategies have matured, with many now recognizing shortcomings with text-to-give, such as challenges initiating an ongoing relationship with first-time donors when they donate in this manner.

Text-to-give typically involves alerting consumers that they can text a keyword to a short code to easily make a $5 or $10 donation, with the amount applied to their mobile phone bill.

These days, UNICEF is more likely to send out an SMS alert to its opted-in users and include a link that will take them to a mobile-optimized Web page where they can make a donation for whatever amount they want.

Feeling charitable
Following the Nepal earthquake, UNICEF sent out SMS alerts to opted-in users on April 25 and 27 with such links.

The organization still uses mobile giving keywords, primarily promoting these on social media and in press releases. For example, consumers can text the keyword Nepal to the short code 864233 to make a $10.

UNICEF also focuses on email to reach mobile users, with approximately 50 percent of the organization’s emails opened on a mobile device. Every email is mobile optimized as well as every donation form.

“We are still using text-to-give for disaster response, but in general, we are using that as a driver to get people to a mobile site that is responsive,” Mr. Maddocks said.

“We want them to be able to give as much as they feel charitable to give,” he said.