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Cause Marketing with Text-to-Give

Charitable giving via texting on mobile phone — text-to-give — really took off in 2010 when a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. The American Red Cross alone raised $32 million dollars when generous donors used their mobile devices to type “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10.

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Considering the outpouring of support for Haiti, you might conclude you should include a keyword and number (called a short code) on all your cause marketing materials so that you can reap millions from text-to-give. Unfortunately, text-to-give doesn’t work that way.

The urgency of the situation in Haiti and the terrible images of the disaster being transmitted around the globe motivated people to give and their mobile phones were an easy, fast way to help.

A pinup, cause product, or Facebook page with an appeal to text-to-give wouldn’t get the same attention. But here are two ideas that just might work, if you have the right partner:

  • Team up with a media partner, particularly from TV, radio, or outdoor advertising. Your goal is to convince them to donate air-time or space to share a compelling story, image, or message from your cause and to encourage supporters to text their donations.

    A great example of this concept at work is the “I am here” campaign by Mobile Loaves & Fishes in Austin, Texas, which sought to raise awareness of the homelessness and of one man: Danny Silver. By simply text messaging "Danny" to 20222, donors could give $10. The campaign raised enough money to get Danny and his disabled wife off the street and into a home.

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  • Ask for a plug at a sporting event or concert. You may have already experienced this one yourself. You’re at a concert enjoying yourself, and the lead singer gives a plug for her cause and asks you to text a donation from your phone.

    Singer Adam Lambert of American Idol fame has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Donorschoose.org by asking fans at concerts to donate. Or maybe you’re at a sporting event and the announcer asks you to watch the jumbotron where a bald child stricken by cancer is shown, and a number flashes on the screen for you to text a donation to a cancer hospital.

    That’s just what the Washington Nationals major league baseball team did in 2008 when it asked fans to donate $5 to a pediatric diabetes care complex at Children’s National Medical Center in D.C.

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But just as a point-of-sale program can happen at one store, text-to-give could be added to a high school football game, a pancake breakfast, a city festival, or local concerts. Just be realistic about how much you’ll raise if Lady Gaga isn’t scheduled to appear and give your organization a plug.

Keep these key points in mind about text-to-give:

  • Consider the audience you want to reach. The type of people who rely on text messaging is growing every day, but it’s particularly strong among Millennials (men and women born during the 1980s and —’90s). If your group primarily works with and raises money from seniors, you may want to consider another strategy.

  • You’ll have to choose a third-party vendor to execute your campaign. Text-to-give isn’t something you’ll do in-house. A list of approved application service providers evaluated on functionality of their mobile platform, mobile marketing service capabilities, financial viability, commitment to pioneering the mobile channel, geographical coverage, transparency of ownership and governance, and so on is available on the Mobile Giving Foundation's website.

  • Giving options are limited. The most popular amounts are $5 and $10, but the Mobile Giving Foundation is testing $20 and $25 gifts. Currently, there are no recurring text donations.

  • Make sure that you understand the fees. Providers typically charge for setup, monthly usage, and per-message usage.

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