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Text-to-give upheaval threatens to rewrite mobile fundraising

While text-to-give was an early, high-profile mobile marketing success story, recent developments and the availability of other potentially more effective strategies could result in a shrinking role going forward.

Last fall, the major wireless carriers stopped supporting premium SMS, but not text-to-give programs for nonprofits and political campaigns. However, the upheaval and uncertainty caused by the news is just one reason nonprofits could begin looking beyond text-to-give.

“The customers on our platform that have tried text-to-give have stopped using text-to-give for various reasons, so while it is a viable option, those that have tried and are not supporting a Haiti or Sandy are not happy with the results,” said Dale Knoop, founder and CEO of Raz Mobile, Overland Park, KS.

“It still is useful in disasters but nonprofits can’t be put into a position of waiting for the next disaster for mobile donations,” he said. “Mobile giving needs recurring capabilities, crowd-funding, real-time data and the like, which is something that text-to-give isn’t really able to accomplish.

“In a way we’ve been conditioning mobile donors to only give when there’s massive destruction. What about causes focused on bullying? AIDS? Cancer? We always say tragedy never takes a day off and there’s other ways to give via a mobile phone that are just as convenient as text-to-give.”

Direct carrier billing
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all said last fall they would stop supporting premium SMS billing, except for nonprofit and political campaign fundraising.

Some service providers are working directly with the carriers to not only continue text-to-give but insure that it becomes a more streamlined offering for nonprofits. However, in the short-term the text-to-give environment is in flux.

The wireless carriers have been diligent to ensure there will be no disruption in support for mobile giving, according to Jim Manis, founder and CEO of the BBB Mobile Giving Foundation, Arlington, VA.

Additionally, charities can expect new functionality over the coming months intended to reinforce the value of messaging, help integrate giving campaigns with other mobile platforms and improve the return on investment.

One new development is that carriers are giving marketing services providers access to carrier billing, which is typically initiated via the Web.

“I think donation volumes will continue to grow and that charities will continue to invest in mobile knowing that is where their followers reside,” Mr. Manis said.

Digital fundraising
Text-to-give’s potential for fundraising first became apparent in the wake of several natural disasters such as the earthquake in Jamaica, with nonprofits providing food, water and other assistance to survivors able to quickly raise significant funds to support these specific efforts.

The success of text-to-give points to how mobile can bring significant convenience to certain activities. Compared to picking up a phone and using a credit card to make a donation or writing out a check to mail in, text-to-give is a breeze, enabling mobile phone users to text a keyword to a short code to make a donation by having a set financial amount – typically $10 – automatically added to their monthly service bill.

Based on the success of these programs, a wide array of nonprofits has been leveraging text-to-give, with the strategy becoming an important asset in nonprofits’ mobile fundraising toolbox.

The premium SMS flack adds on to other issues surrounding text-to-give for nonprofits, such as cost and a lack of real-time reporting.

Despite the challenges with text-to-give, many nonprofits still see it as a necessary fundraising strategy.

“Text-to-give is but one tool in our arsenal of digital fundraising and one tool in a multi-channel engagement strategy,” said Kristen Grant, director of communications and marketing for the NY-based Eastern Division of American Cancer Society.

“In some cases, it’s less about the amount of money raised and more about being an organization that offers constituents the flexibility to interact with us when and where they want, especially in this digital age,” she said.

“We should be taking as many tools as we can and leverage them to benefit the organization in as many ways as we can. Mobile tools like SMS and specifically text-to-give provide us with that opportunity, and we will continue to utilize it on our efforts to fight cancer.”

Social giving
At the same time that there are challenges with text-to-give, other strategies are becoming more relevant, such as mobile Web.

Like most marketers, nonprofits are seeing a spike in traffic from mobile users coming to their main URL, putting the pressure of these organizations to have a mobile-optimized experience if they want to encourage donations from mobile users.

Also, thanks to changes made to Google, nonprofits could see their search ranking drop if they do not have a mobile-optimized site.

As a result, nonprofits are increasingly eyeing mobile sites to support their SEO and fundraising strategies.

Nonprofits are also increasingly interested in social media, including hash tag marketing, to raise funds.

Another challenge with text-to-give for nonprofits is that the size of the donation is often limited to $10 or, in some cases, $25.

As consumers become increasingly comfortable using their mobile phones to make purchases, do their banking and other commerce-related activities, they are increasingly looking for ways to make larger donations from mobile.

“With Google now basically requiring a mobile-optimized version of your domain in order to not suffer in search rank nonprofits are realizing that mobile engagement and fundraising has a future beyond just text-to-give,” Raz Mobile’s Mr. Knoop said. “Also, since gifts are unlimited outside text-to-give donors have said they want to make larger gifts and we saw one this past December at $2000 from a single tweet.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York