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“How can NGOs  fundraise successfully in digital channels?” The Swiss creative agency  Spinas Civil Voices sent me to a quest to find an answer to this burning question. I attended the International Fundraising Conference #IFC2015 in Holland. With global mobile penetration having reached 73%, and mobile traffic on internet exceeding the traffic from other devices, I assumed that the answer would definitely involve mobile fundraising. What took me by suprise, is that it involves text messaging.

The SMS technology was commercialised in 1994 by Nokia, allegedly invented by my fellow Finns, who were determined to find out a way to communicate without having to speak with each other. Wikipedia doesn’t confirm this, but I buy the argument. We all had this marvelous phone:

Ever since we’ve been holding onto our mobiles. According to research presented by Paul de Gregorio from Open Fundraising (UK), 63% of Brits admit to checking their mobile while on the toilet and the rest might be lying, since 90% of phone owners keep their phone within 1 meter distance at all times. The phone is checked on average 150 times a day! And as for fundraising potential: 6 years ago there was no mobile fundraising in Britain, and it has gained 150 million pounds this year.

So, are we using our mobiles on making online donations? Try it out! Making a donation using an online form takes on average 6 long minutes to complete, whereas a simple SMS “text to donate” message can be sent in 9 seconds.

That’s a clear victory for SMS over all those overcomplicated fundraising forms, that aren’t often even mobile-optimized. Who would go through such trouble for a small donation? Our time is more precious than that. (And I don’t suppose the increasing frustration on the way grows the willingness to give more, or more often).

There’s nothing new in asking for donation with a text message. What’s new(er) iswhere the donation is being asked for. By attending various IFC sessions, I gathered, that succesful mobile fundraising means using SMS in combination with an other channel.

Text to donate via Facebook

You can forget coding separate applications for Facebook fundraising, since users are becoming unwilling to give the names of their unborn babies to Facebook, when giving an app the right to probe their profile information. Instead, post an image on Facebook and ask for an SMS donation in the text.

Why? 80% of Facebook traffic comes through the mobile app, and it’s 1.39 billion monthly active users 526 million are mobile only. Many NGO are doubtful if social media is doing much good in terms of fundraising, but I wrote down “Slacktivists” are more 4x likely to give – and social mobile users are even 7x more likely to give. I can’t read my own handwriting, so can’t identify the research source anymore, but there’s no harm in trying. This needs practically no investment if you’ve got a SMS donation process in place already.

 Text to donate via Face-To-Face

This is a nice example of a charity asking for a SMS donation on the street; A water bucket, that the person must carry to feel how it’d be like carrying one’s own water instead of turning the tap on. In the side of the bucket, there’s an ask to donate water, a bucket, or both – via SMS. The canvasser oversees, that the donor goes through the donation process instantly, and NGO gets the telephone number (which people won’t easily volunteer to give otherwise). When the NGO asks for further donor contact information in the “thank you” SMS, the one-off text donor may be cultivated to a new level of commitment via direct mail, telemarketing and whatnot.

SMS donation online

This one is my favourite, since it defies logic, but yet makes sense. It sounds like poor user experience design, to instruct people using the online donation form (likely on their laptops) to suddenly dabble with text messages. But anyone, who has ran into errors when paying online due to unsupported debit/credit cards, having to print, fill out and mail PDF’s, lacked payment options (no PayPal, seriously?), or having to login to ones complicated online banking system, is glad to skip these steps and just fill in their phone number to proceed with an SMS donation.

The Swiss Red Cross got a record of 300 000 CHF of SMS donations in 3 days during the Balkan floods in 2014 – without a push SMS, direct mail or email. They offer the option to donate by SMS on their online form alongside several different payment methods, and on 2014 SMS proved the most popular one. The organisation learned that SMS is essential for emergency response situations, and works well in getting low-value donations (the average was 45 CHF of the allowed maximum of 99 CHF). The Red Cross made a remarkable investment in setting up the CRM system to enable enriching the SMS leads with addresses, and it seems well worth it.

Do You have experience in fundraising successfully by using SMS? Or has it proven a flop? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.