fundraising: for now skip text-to-give

Let’s just get this over with: I’m against what is usually known as “text-to-give” or “mobile giving” for most nonprofits and ministries. As we know it in the U.S., it is a bad idea. I suspect the technology and regulations will change and I’ll become a fan, but for now, with what has to happen in “text-to-give” strategies, I’m opposed. Sorry about that, but let me tell you why.

We have clients who are testing text-to-give. I’ve advised clients on “text-to-give.” I’m no luddite. Shoot, I’m for almost everything cool, technologically fun and generally filled with geeky-goodness. Hey, I’m a proud “early adopter.” But when it comes to fundraising strategies, I’m a beady-eyed realist.

So far, text-to-give falls flat. Until recently, my big complaint was that it’s a tip jar (or big kettle). The nonprofit has little opportunity to cultivate a relationship with the donor, which forces a constant “all acquisition, all the time” model (or worse, the hot disaster of the month). That’s a prescription for higher fundraising costs and long-term pain. We’ve blogged about these kind of traps here and here and here.

Recently the Harvard Business Review (HBR) ran an article on texting: “How Texting is Changing Philanthropy.” Regarding the earthquake in Haiti, HBR notes that: “The Red Cross alone raised more than $30 million via text donations by the middle of February, more than 10% of the total funds raised.” The author then goes on to note: “This form of communication indeed will dramatically change the industry — but not in terms of fundraising.” Hmmm…. makes me pause. Not in terms of fundraising???

Three distinct areas of change are called out in the article:

1. Defining Needs.

2. Accountability.

3. Value Added.

I’ll let you explore items #1 and #3 on your own. Let me ruin your day (and any simplistic views of texting and fundraising) with a few thoughts on #2 — “Accountability.” HBR states that it won’t be long before child sponsors will ask for the the cell number of the children they’re sponsoring. That way the donor can communicate directly with their child. Sort of a digital birthday card or school update…errr…. I don’t think so.

Imagine donors who are communicating directly with the children they sponsor…or even directly with the school or in-country agency. How many texts do you think it will take before the child (or the school) decides to ask the donor to text some funding directly and eliminate the overhead of the sponsorship organization? Or how long before the donor receives information that is different than what the child sponsorship organization has published? And who will the donor believe? Did you follow the criticism that Kiva received at the end of 2009? It is sobering.

YIKES! That begins to get interesting, doesn’t it? And then imagine the loss of accountability that occurs. I’ll let your imagination run wild on all the ways this could get ugly. But I can imagine all kinds of “interesting” things happening not only for international charities but also for groups who do U.S. ministry.

This HBR article doesn’t deal directly with the difficulties of text-to-give but it adds fuel to the fire. I’d rather have real accountability and security for the nonprofits we serve…not to mention the opportunity to cultivate long-term relationships with donors without the difficult gyrations to get the texting donor to agree to let me communicate with them. I understand those strategies are workable, but they’re a lot of work, have a lot of rules, and I suspect that the true ROI on those donors remain hidden and difficult to parse out.

Sorry to be a party-pooper. Please understand, I’d love to be pro text-to-give. But right now, I’m thinking about how to deal with texting for nonprofits and ministries who cannot afford to acquire donors they cannot build relationships with.

There’s no question that texting will one day change the philanthropy and fundraising. It’s already made a difference for disaster fundraising. But I am certain for non-disaster charities, this will be a complicated problem to solve. No one can see all the ramifications or consequences… yet. Hang on, it will be an interesting ride.

What do you think? Are you in favor of text-to-give as it works currently? Bring me back from the dark side. Let me know what you’re thinking for your organization. And I’d love to hear what your experiences have been if you’ve been a text-to-give donor.

I always love to hear what you’re thinking.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: peasap)

Picture of Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

3 thoughts on “fundraising: for now skip text-to-give”

  1. You are looking out of Plato’s cave (into the light), not staring at the wall. Good thought-provoking post. Thanks for taking us below the surface in our thinking about text-to-give.

  2. Pingback: oneicity // income solutions for non-profits » text-to-give update

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