More on Mobile
FundRaising Success: How would you define where the fundraising sector in the United States is in regard to mobile giving?
Jim Killion: Mobile giving is in its infancy, but with the dramatic results achieved by the Red Cross with text-to-give to Haiti relief, it is now on most people's radar. In many ways, mobile giving is where what is now often referred to as "traditional Internet giving" was six or eight years ago. And just as Internet giving has taken off in the last decade, so will mobile giving. But the move to mobile will be much faster than the move to Internet giving.
Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, noted recently, "Mobile Web adoption is growing eight times faster than the first wave of PC Internet adoption. There may be some limits, but we're not anywhere near them."
Reuters noted in a March 11 article that "sales of smartphones like the iPhone are forecast to grow by about 50 percent this year to 250 million units, compared with 20 percent growth to 366 million units for PCs."
Tony Aiello: Mobile donations are still at an early stage in the U.S. Before the Haiti earthquake, most Americans did not know that it was possible to donate by text message. The terrible tragedy in Haiti brought awareness of mobile donations to millions of people, but it's still an emerging methodology for giving.
There are some fundamental characteristics about the text donation channel that make it a great way to solicit and receive donations. For one thing, people have their mobile phones with them almost all of the time. That makes it easy for them to take action whenever and wherever they are motivated to give. It's also so easy for people to make a mobile donation. They can just push a few buttons, and it's done. They don't need to go to their PC. They don't need to enter a credit card. They don't even need a bank account.
We've just begun to develop the channel and its potential. There are emerging mobile technologies that are being introduced nearly every day, and we are deploying charitable-giving links for many of these new technologies — things like better links to social media through mobile devices, location-enabled applications, mapping, imaging, donor data collection and seamless integration with CRM systems.
FS: Explain the phenomenon of the surge in mobile giving in the Haiti relief effort.
JK: The earthquake in Haiti was a terrible disaster right on America's doorstep. News coverage was immediate, focused on the great need and kept the need in front of the American people. The generosity of Americans, especially for neighbors, is unparalleled. And when text-to-give opportunities began to flood the media, people responded.
The American Red Cross had the enormous benefit of free exposure on the cable news channels ("text Haiti to 90999"). The same appeared on entertainment television, NFL football games, NBA basketball games, NCAA games. It was in newspapers, on radio — it was about as ubiquitous as any fundraising appeal in history. It may have had more free publicity than any other cause — ever. And it was easy to give. That is the power of text-to-give: ease. But for 98 percent of America's nonprofits, that ease does not translate to net income because they do not enjoy the media exposure of the Red Cross, Salvation Army, UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children.
TA: There are several reasons the mobile campaigns for Haiti relief were so successful. For one thing, the images of the victims and the stories about their suffering were a powerful call to action. Millions of Americans just wanted to help, and text donations made it easy for them to be generous.
Beyond that, there were several things that helped this to become the most successful mobile donation campaign in history. It is all about communication, and so many people spread the word! From the State Department and Red Cross announcements and quick response, to public service announcements by Michelle Obama, to media stories ranging from national broadcast, to national business press to metropolitan dailies and radio, to individuals making pleas on Facebook and Twitter. It would have been hard for people to miss it.
In addition, the adoption of the mobile phone has really taken hold in the last few years. More people have mobile phones, and more people are more comfortable using their phones to do things besides talking. Without that social shift, it's unlikely that the Haiti mobile campaign would have had such an impact.
There is one other social shift that is worth mentioning. We are seeing a flattening and a broadening of social participation in any number of activities that were previously the focus of a few. One example of this is in journalism, where we have millions of bloggers and citizen journalists who are reporting on stories that affect us every day. Another example of the flattening and broadening is in the political arena. We saw the power of microdonations, of Twitter and MySpace and Facebook during the Obama campaign. A grassroots movement can quickly become a powerful force. Many small donations can make a big difference.
FS: There are those who would argue that many people who gave $10 text donations to Haiti relief might well have given larger gifts online if they hadn't been presented with an opportunity to give an easy, though smaller and limited, gift via phone.
JK: There is no question that given the same type of publicity and opportunity, many donations far in excess of $10 would have been received. Perhaps the euphoria over the volume of donations masked the limited amounts given. Every day there are stories in the blogosphere extolling the great swell in giving to Haiti (and to some extent, the paucity of giving to Chile).
Giving is good. And so when millions of people take out their phones and text a donation to the Red Cross, that is a good thing. I think we would all salute and encourage it. But the tragic truth is that it is going to take a decade or more to rebuild Haiti. And it will take billions — not millions — of dollars to rebuild that devastated and poor country. I worry that many now consider themselves to have "helped." It's not hard to find a friend or colleague who will tell you that they "gave to Haiti relief." As nice as that is, it doesn't do all that much. $40 million — the amount that seems to be accepted as the Haiti text-to-give total (at least for the Red Cross) is wonderful. But it will take giving far in excess of that. And text-to-give won't supply the greater need. It won't even allow charities as big as the Red Cross to follow up with ways a person can help in the future, because most text giving remains anonymous to the charity.
A study presented at the [Direct Marketing Association] Nonprofit Federation conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this year revealed that less than 5 percent of text-to-give donors shared their e-mail address when asked to, thereby severely limiting a nonprofit's ability to develop a significant relationship with the donors.
TA: One of the strengths of the mobile donation channel is the ability to prompt contributions from new donors. In general, it is a younger audience that uses mobile phones for activities beyond conversation. Many of these individuals might not have donated at all if there was not an easy way to do it via mobile. In fact, many of these younger people probably never donated to anything before for any reason. And once the younger, newer donors give, charities can use the mobile donation platform to ask for permission to contact them in the future — a powerful way to build a community and a new generation of donors. The next wave of smartphones will make it easy for charities to collect vital donor data during the initial giving process.
In the current economic climate, many assumptions we might have made about the contributions of wealthy donors or about the amount of large donations are changing. We received calls from people who said they were not working, but even though their belts were tighter, they could afford to donate $10. So we think mobile donations probably made up some of the gap caused by our economic situation.
For donors who normally give larger amounts to causes they support, smaller mobile donations augment traditional giving. Text donations can be made anytime and anyplace, and it is likely that some of the text donations dedicated to Haiti were given by traditional large donors who were prompted by public pleas and acted immediately based on the circumstances surrounding that specific call to action. People who recognize how much a larger donation could help did not substitute a $10 donation for a $100 or $1,000 donation. They did both. Individuals that have the financial means to give large gifts and have done so in the past are fully aware of how to send a check or go online.
It is totally illogical to assume that because an educated and experienced traditional donor was moved to respond in an instant by text that they did not also send a check or go online later and make a large gift. That's just not how people operate. The tragedy was covered in the news for weeks and still is getting significant coverage, so there is time for people to realize additional donations made through whatever means possible will help the long-term recovery efforts.
FS: Can smaller organizations without easy access to media and celebrities that encourage mobile giving benefit as much as those large organizations that did so well with Haiti relief efforts?
JK: The biggest challenge for interactive giving is exposure: getting people to your Web site or, in this case, getting them to text your organization. Absent dramatic exposure — and more than 95 percent of nonprofits do not have the necessary reach and exposure — nonprofits will have a very hard time funding their needs through text-to-give. Most will struggle to break even.
TA: While celebrities and media certainly make it easier to get the message out, we have many examples of smaller organizations that are successfully using text donations to raise money. One of the benefits of mobile donations is that the cost of fundraising — particularly in attracting new donors — is much lower.
FS: What's next for mobile giving in the U.S? What about hurdles?
JK: Perhaps the greatest hurdle is the tendency for nonprofits to be late adopters. E-commerce scaled well before e-philanthropy. And mobile giving will lag mobile commerce. But I am of the opinion that mobile giving will take hold much more quickly than online giving did. We will see significant income — with sustainable donor relationships — start to flow in the mobile channel well before 2015. And when that happens, it will have enjoyed a much faster adoption rate than traditional Internet giving.
Right now, almost every nonprofit equates mobile giving with text-to-give. Some want to equate it with mobile apps. But Apple, the great mobile sheriff, doesn't allow donations to flow through any of its approved apps. That hurts, but the mobile world is already quickly moving beyond apps and into mobile browser content. There are, according to Taptu's The State of the Mobile Touch Web Report, released in January 2010, nearly twice as many mobile-optimized Web sites as apps. And they — and I — expect that margin to continue to grow.
The future is not just about sending your online page to a mobile-ready CSS version. It is about utilizing usability and functionality best practices (for fundraising, communication, advocacy and more) and adding outstanding creative that allows nonprofits to tell their story and reflect their brand well. It is about strategically prioritizing what you want to communicate to the rapidly increasing number of people accessing Web sites from their phones. It's also important to be accessible from multiple mobile devices, not just the iPhone.
The power of the mobile browser is remarkable. We can accept credit card donations of any amount — safely and securely — from almost any smartphone in America. That's a huge audience — and an affluent one. The only hurdles are awareness and education.
Take a quick look at urcause.org on your desktop or laptop computer. Then go to the same address on your iPhone or any current-generation smartphone with a browser. You will see the difference immediately. The mobile version makes information easy to read, easy to access, easy to respond to. That means easy to give.
TA: The biggest hurdles remain awareness and experience — both on the part of donors and nonprofits. As donors and nonprofits become more accustomed to mobile fundraising, they will create more successes, inspiring even more success and innovation in campaigns. And as people adopt ever more capable technologies such as smartphones, the methods for mobile fundraising will become more powerful and flexible.
Online giving, which today accounts for tens of billions of dollars of giving in the U.S., holds a good lesson for the trajectory of growth and development for mobile giving. In its first years, the amounts raised online were smaller than the first years of mobile giving, and the early growth rates were slower. FS