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My Answer to the Text-to-Give Question

I have been asked a few times as of late about Text-to-give campaigns. My quick reply in these conversations is “it has worked well in some situations, but probably not worth it for you.” This has seemed to leave people skeptical, so in this post I am aiming to give context as to why I tell the average nonprofit that it may not be worth their effort.

First a little history of text-to-give. It became mainstream as a giving channel after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti when the American Red Cross was successful in implementing a nationwide campaign that raised over $500 million dollars. This method of text-to-give was at the time the quickest and easiest method of giving digitally and was hailed as an answer to dropping coins or dollars in a bucket. I myself was working for a nonprofit that saw this unfold and quickly scrambled to get our own SMS shortcode for mobile donations.

How it worked was that a donor would (SMS) text a shortcode (e.g. HAITI) to a specified number with the dollar amount they wished to give and the donation amount would be run through the phone carrier network and added to the donor’s phone bill. The carrier would then cut checks to the nonprofit. Not only did this method of giving remove a layer of interaction between donor and the organization, but it also caused a sense of distrust that the dollars were getting to the people who needed it as well as was eaten away by transaction and disbursement fees by the time it reached the nonprofit.

After the initial buzz began to wear down and more and more organizations rolled out campaigns without the success that the American Red Cross achieved, more and more outlets began publishing narratives pointing organizations to think twice before establishing a text-to-give campaign. See 5 Text-To-Give Challenges, Mightycause Mythbusters: Text to Give, and 10 Considerations Before Running A Text-To-Give Campaign. All similarly showing how it can be expensive, limiting, and hard to cultivate relationships with new donors.

It’s for these reasons and “due to changes in the way consumers use mobile phones.” that JustTextGiving (a service of JustGiving owned by Blackbaud), the text donation service launched by JustGiving and Vodafone seven years ago, is set to shut down next year.

With that being said, there is no denying that the American Red Cross was able to implement this style of fundraising campaign with wild success and others with a similar large-scale reach achieved success. So if your organization has reach and and advertising budget to support it - carry on.

I suspect that most of you reading this are with a small to mid-sized nonprofit. In which case I would suggest that a traditional SMS text-to-give campaign is probably not worth the time, effort, and transaction fees. Since 2010, however, new and improved versions of text-to-donate have emerged to run outside of phone carriers and instead through fundraising software. CrowdRise gives a fantastic overview of how this type of text-to-donate works. While it does require a few extra steps from the initial text-to-give model, it does give organizations and donors more transparency and interaction — which is always great.

Like any new fundraising campaign, I would advise an organization to carefully consider how they would implement and promote a text-to-donate campaign in conjunction with their other fundraising campaigns and map out how this could be done effectively as a part of the entire donor journey and communication cycle.

If you would like to discuss this further, and learn how to implement a text-to-donate campaign successfully please CONTACT ME today!