February 2010 Archives

February 16, 2010

Giving Via Mobile Text Message: Can It Work for Your Nonprofit?

I was having dinner with friends recently, and out of nowhere, one of them began excitedly describing her experience of having donated $10 to a Haiti-related charity via a mobile phone text message. Her words, more or less, were: "It was so easy! I didn't have to call a number or fill out a form -- all those steps that might normally make me feel like I'd taken on a chore and might want to give up in the middle. Within seconds, I'd made the donation, and felt good about it."

For readers not familiar with this form of giving, here's what the mobile phone donor literally experiences: They're told (via various marketing means) that, by simply typing a numeric code into their mobile phone, and then typing in a word, they can make a donation of a particular amount -- usually $1, $5, or $10 (the max).

For the American Red Cross's Haiti efforts, for example, donors were advised to text the word, "HAITI" and send it to 90999. Donors then get a message asking them to confirm their wish to donate, to which they'll hopefully respond by typing the word, "yes" back, at which point they get another automated confirmation message. When their mobile phone bill comes, they'll see the extra charge representing their donation.

My friend isn't the only one who's finding it easy and satisfying to give via text message. If you look at recent press reports, a number of charities -- particularly those raising funds for Haiti -- are making good use of donors' urges to do something to help right now, immediately, with no unnecessary steps. As Verizon spokesman Chuck Hamby said to Richard Mullins for an article in The Tampa Tribune, "People want to do the right thing and give. When you make it as easy as tapping out a one-word message, people respond."

The numbers are, in some cases, eye-popping -- especially given that the mobile donation systems limit people to $10 per text message or $25 per cause (apparently to protect people from having their kids start happily pressing buttons on their phone). The American Red Cross reported as of January 14, 2010 having raised more than $5 million for Haiti via text-message donations. (See Consumer Reports blog.) 

Of course, such big numbers are partly explained by the fact that fundraising for emergency relief efforts tends to dwarf (or even take away from) fundraising for ongoing needs. Meanwhile, Consumer Reports noted that the American Red Cross's intake was more than three times the amount of money that all U.S. charities had raised via text in the last two years combined.

Nevertheless, the success of the American Red Cross's effort may have awakened audience awareness that texting is an available and easy way to give. What's more, texting as a giving method is reportedly helping charities reach potential new donors who are otherwise hard to connect with, particularly young people or those in minority communities.

Okay, so how realistic is this as a fundraising method for small-ish nonprofits? The numbers still look a bit iffy. The widely acknowledged go-to place for setting up such arrangements is the MGive Foundation. It currently charges a one-time setup fee of $500, plus $399 a month (at its lowest program level) for ongoing services with a one-year minimum contract, plus a per-transaction fee of 35 cents and 3.5% of the donation. This obviously works best for large nonprofits with a big public presence. (In fact, to sign up, MGive requires that your revenues be at least $500,000 per year.)

The fees would be worth the price even for a smaller nonprofit, of course, if the dollars coming in swamped the up-front investment -- but the case studies shown on its website don't indicate that any small or local nonprofits have seen dramatic results. In fact, one of the success stories mentions Defenders of Wildlife (a nonprofit with overall annual revenues of $31 million in 2008) having raised around $2,000 via texting within a two-month period, also during 2008 -- nice, but hardly an avalanche of money.

We're just at the beginning of learning how to use this giving method, however. As more nonprofits get on board, no information will no doubt be developed about how to engage donors' interest and get the maximum return on a text message campaign. It's probably worth keeping your eyes on this emerging possibility -- especially so that you don't try to get on board after its usefulness has peaked! 
February 8, 2010

Give Your E.D. a Break! Sabbatical Grants

During a recession may seem like the last time your nonprofit would want to go without the services of its executive director or other key managers -- but such thinking just means you haven't read the report, Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector, published by Third Sector New England and CompassPoint.

Based on surveys of nonprofit executives who received grants to go on sabbatical, the report shows how their absence (of about three months) can help them recharge their batteries and return with new ideas and energy around managing and raising money for the organization. It can also help other staff learn new skills and perhaps get ready to assume higher-level roles within the organization.

The grants themselves (available from sources detailed within the report) typically cover the executive's salary during the absence (which could allow your organization to hire some temporary help) along with, in some cases, travel and related expenses, plus help for the organization itself during the transition. Sounds like a great way to avoid burnout and shake things up a bit!
February 1, 2010

Twitter Followers Can Now Hear From Bill Gates

If you're feeling the Twitter void from Miley Cyrus having deleted her account, here's something new to keep you busy: tweets from Bill Gates!

Which raises the question, is someone at your nonprofit keeping the world up on your activities via Twitter yet? It's one of the fastest and easiest methods of reaching out to people.

Of course, one has to wonder whether Gates writes his own entries or delegates this to his PR team -- he is, after all, reputed to be a pretty busy guy. But if you don't have your own PR team to handle such things, just bear in mind that there's something to be said for the personal touch, with messages that come from your heart, as your nonprofit confronts its challenges, in real time.