Is Mobile Fundraising the Next Frontier for Charities?
The numbers speak for themselves: There currently are 236 million cell phone users in the United States — an astounding 76 percent penetration. In December of last year alone, 18.7 billion text messages were sent — up 92 percent from 9.7 billion in December 2005. Estimates predict 195 billion text messages were sent in 2007 — that is 600 million a day.
Fundraisers and nonprofits are salivating at the prospect of reaching all of these people where they are, at the moment they’re moved by a cause and are able to give — with a few simple flicks of their thumbs.
Mobile fundraising for worthwhile causes is, indeed, beginning to make headlines. So what is the truth behind the hype? What can fundraisers and nonprofits promoting a cause do and expect as results, and what creative ideas have gone untapped so far?
In America, the most visible and widely publicized campaigns have been so-called premium SMS (text messaging) campaigns for disaster relief, notably after the Asian tsunami, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the California wildfires. Customers of participating mobile carriers could send a text message to the short code “2HELP” (24357) containing the keyword “Help” to make a tax-deductible donation to American Red Cross relief efforts. Short codes often are referred to as the “mobile URL” — short, five-digit codes or even vanity codes that customers can text to receive information or participate in a campaign.
These donations via premium SMS then appear on customers’ monthly bills or are debited from prepaid cell phone account balances.
The city of New Orleans tried a different route: It worked with PayPal, which has a mobile option to raise cash via text and online. The “Text to Give” campaign was slated to raise $1 million, but the actual amount raised fell far short of that goal.