How to Solicit Text-Message Donations for Your Nonprofit

Many nonprofit organizations now accept donations made via mobile phone texts. Text message contributions have been particularly strong for natural disasters and other emergencies. In 2010, the American Red Cross raised some $12 million through its text-to-give campaign for Haitian earthquake relief. Mobile phone services waived texting fees for donors who gave.

A typical texted donation is modest in size, but a nonprofit may secure a new donor who is motivated by being able to take action immediately and by the relative ease of remembering a code word and phone number rather than a long website address or street address.

A text-to-give campaign works best when your nonprofit has an active social-media network or highly visible public event (such as a benefit concert) through which it can spread the word.

Nonprofits should be aware of some disadvantages — the biggest one being that it’s difficult to form a relationship with a texting donor. Your nonprofit and the donor will be working through a processing service such as mGive, and your organization won’t gain access to the donor’s information. Other disadvantages include:

  • Upfront costs. Leasing a short code from the Common Short Codes Administration can cost $1,000 upfront for a “vanity” code word you choose or $500 for a randomly selected code. Furthermore, mobile vendors will charge a one-time set-up fee of $3,000 to $10,000 for a unique “vanity” short code and $1,500 for a shared short code.

  • Small contributions. Nonprofits are legally permitted to ask only for modest gifts of $5 to $10, and donors can’t give more than five times monthly.

  • Fees charged. The processing service will charge a modest fee for each donation.

  • Delays. It can take up to 90 days for the donor’s gift to reach the nonprofit.

A growing alternative to texted donations is the use of QR codes (two-dimensional barcodes that appear on numerous products). Nonprofits can feature their QR codes on newsletters, letters, t-shirts, and invitations. Donors scan these codes with their mobile devices to make contributions.

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