Putting Text-to-Donate to Work for Your Nonprofit
We can all agree there are so many ways to reach donors and ask them to contribute that it’s hard to pick and choose. In addition to the sheer variety, It takes time (scarce enough as that is) and effort to evaluate whether a channel could benefit your organization and your donors. If text-to-donate is a medium you are considering for fundraising, here is what you need to know to expedite your decision-making process.
What Is Text-to-Donate?
What exactly is text-to-donate, and how does it work?
There have been two major versions of text-to-donate (often used interchangeably with text-to-give) over the past decade.
Most would recognize the version of text-to-donate the American Red Cross used after the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
A donor texts an amount to a five- or six-digit phone number, typically limited to $5 or $10, which is added to their mobile carrier bill. It’s easy for donors to quickly take out their phones and donate directly through text, without having to visit a web page or enter credit card details.
With awareness being high after a tragedy, like a hurricane, tsunami or earthquake, this text-to-donate model works great. In fact, 50% of Haiti donors made a donation immediately after learning of the campaign, and 28% gave later in the same day.
But this type of giving via text presents a few problems that include:
- Limited donation amounts.
- Expensive to set up and maintain. Not really effective unless it’s a large event (like a hurricane or an earthquake that gets nationwide attention).
- Lengthy approval process, with another long wait to receive the funds.
- Hardly any data gets to the hands of the nonprofit.
In more recent examples of text-to-donate/give, you are provided a phone number that donors can send a text to, and they get a link back that takes them to a mobile-optimized donation page. Some of these services offer you the ability to capture multiple data points from donors and provide the ability to collect recurring donations.
Here are some things to look at when deciding on text-to-donate as a fundraising channel and when choosing a tool to help you set it up.
What to Consider Before Deciding on Text-to-Donate
Diversification of your giving channels
Setting up a new fundraising channel is a no-brainer if you want to collect more donations. It’s only a matter of how much work goes into setting up and maintaining it. While a text-to-donate program directly linked to a mobile carrier (like the Haiti one) requires a lot of work to set up and maintain, a text-to-give program where you text back a link to anyone who wants to donate is simple enough to execute.
It’ll take you about a week to rent a number (e.g. 55555) and a keyword (e.g. DONATE), an hour or so to craft a friendly message, and no time at all in maintenance once you start the campaign (since the SMS tool automatically sends out the donation link to everyone who sends a text).
Making the donation process easier
It’s hard to understate the convenience of smartphones and, by extension, text messages. You would be hard pressed to find someone without their phone at hand 24/7.
Text-to-donate offers an easy avenue to give whether people are at home or on the move and away from their computer. With a memorable keyword and short code, your donors can text in whenever they feel up to it.
Bear in mind that if you have an older supporter base who is used to giving through physical channels, like mailing in a check, text-to-donate might not be right for you.
Cost—subscription or pay as you go pricing?
The cost to start and run a text-to-donate campaign largely depends on the software provider, and no two providers offer the same pricing or features.
Some platforms offer a subscription-based model. Others let you pay as you go, meaning you don’t need to spend to maintain a text-to-donate channel.
Make a note of their monthly/annual cost, payment processing fees and maintenance fees (if any) before deciding that it’s worth investing in text-to-donate. Some subscription-based services can charge upwards of $500 per year.
Other expenses include the cost of renting a short code and keyword.
Some providers assign nonprofits unique numbers or short codes, which you would have to pay anything from $500 to $1,000 per month to use. Others have shared short codes, meaning you pay around $25 to $50 for a specific keyword. You rent a keyword like “DONATE” rather than rent out the actual number.
The ease of sharing data with your CRM
Chances are, you use a CRM to manage your donor data. Since most text-to-donate tools operate in isolation, they might not have the integrations to automatically update the data you get from your text-to-donate campaigns to your CRM. You would then have to manually export a .csv file with your data and import it to your software.
Finding a text-to-donate tool that has a strong integration with your CRM or at least with connector applications, like Zapier, can save you a lot of work.
If you decide to use text-to-donate, you need to:
1. Decide on a keyword.
Your keyword should be short and memorable, reducing the risk of typos and preferably relevant to your campaign. Since keywords are generally not case sensitive, you don’t need to worry about whether a donor texts “Join” or “JOIN.”
2. Choose a short code.
This is the number your donors will be texting your keyword to. An automatic reply is triggered, thanking them for their donation or linking donors to your donation page (e.g. texting “DONATE” to 55555).
3. Have a mobile-optimized donation page.
Plenty of vendors, like OneCause, offer a mobile-friendly donation page for text-to-donate campaigns, which are easy to set up and offer some customization.
Other providers, like Snowball and GiveEasy, direct donors to a donation page only on their first donation—to collect payment details—hastening all subsequent donations through a pre-filled email or directly through text.
If you already have a donation page that you would like to direct donors to and want to handle the payment directly on your website, you can use a service, like CallHub, to run your campaign, with the advantage of only paying for every text you send out.
4. Advertise your keyword and short code.
You need to display your keyword in as many places as possible, whether offline or online. Pamphlets, posters, social media and on your website are all potential ways to get the word out.
- Send out a social media post and encourage your followers to share.
- Advertise your text-to-donate campaign on pamphlets that you hand out and on posters during your events.
- Print it on t-shirts, stickers and other merchandise.
Using Text-to-Donate at Events
Text-to-donate is a useful channel to have in general, but if you can pair it with the other ways you engage your donors, it becomes much more powerful. Disaster relief operations have already shown us that text-to-donate is a convenient way to give in support of an urgent need.
Your events are the next best place to advertise your text-to-donate channel. When supporters are actively engaged with your cause, they are most likely to donate. And by promoting your text-to-donate channel, you give them an easy way to do it then and there.
Catch your donors attention by displaying your keyword and short code prominently throughout the event, along with instructions (e.g. on place cards placed around the room).
Although it’s mostly intuitive, it helps to set aside some time during the event to verbally instruct attendees on how to make a donation through text or demonstrate the process. That will allow people the opportunity to go over the instructions and complete their donation without being distracted.
Weigh the pros and cons of a text-to-donate campaign and whether it makes sense for your target audience before making your decision.
More often than not, introducing text-to-donate as a giving option will benefit your donors. It’s a quick and convenient way for them to donate. Whether it’s going to make sense for your organization largely depends on the type of text-to-donate you go with, the provider you choose and how you promote it to your donors.
Augustus Franklin is founder and CEO of CallHub, a California-based Voice and SMS service company bridging the communication gap for political campaigns, advocacy groups and nonprofits. When he is not working, he is either making toys with his kids or training for a marathon.