text-to-give update

Just a month ago I wrote about this whole text-to-give or mobile giving strategy. Since then, I think we’ve had conversations with half a dozen different nonprofits about it. For the sake of this post, I’m lumping all strategies, from all providers under one label: “text giving.”

My bottomline on text giving: “just say no.” That’s a broad generality and there are some situations where text giving makes sense for nonprofits, but mostly “just say no.”

I know it’s cool. I know “everyone” is doing it. I know it is leading edge technology. I know the rest of the world is doing it. Yep. I know. But as my mom said on more than one occasion to me while I was growing up: “Just because everyone is jumping off a bridge doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for you.”

That didn’t stop me from jumping off a bridge or two, but you should listen to my mom and think long and hard before you commit to a text giving strategy.

Here’s why:

1. Text giving does not build a relationship with your donor. They text in $5 (or whatever) and that’s it. You cannot easily build a relationship with them. You have to develop a strategy to even appropriately thank them much less develop a relationship. Can it be done? Yes. Are many doing it? I doubt it.

2. Text giving doesn’t allow you to scale giving according to a donor’s capacity. 5 bucks from a college student looks the same as 5 bucks from the CEO of Apple Computer. And they look the same as donors to you. Wouldn’t you like to know which is which and cultivate that CEO guy?

3. Text giving keeps you in acquisition mode 24/7. You don’t have an easy way of moving newly acquired donors into a new donor cultivation stream (often you can’t even tell if the texter is a new or existing donor). So you’re constantly churning new text giving donors.

4. Text giving can substitute a small relationshipless gift for a truly meaningful gift. If one of your long-standing donors gives a gift through texting. You can’t cultivate and encourage the relationship the same way you can with almost every other giving channel. Think about those kettles at Christmas time…hard to maintain or develop a relationship with the money dropped into one of those, isn’t it?

5. Text giving isn’t as easy as it seems. If you aren’t registered in all 50 states, then plan on having some registration issues pop up as you fill out your paperwork. Be sure to figure out how many dollars will have to be texted to you to pay for the additional registration and forms. Read the fine print. Please.

6. Text giving requires a powerful moment. So why am I going to reach for my iPhone and text you a gift? What will drive that? What will motivate it? No celebrity on stage or crisis on CNN? Then why am I reaching for my phone, instead of typing in your URL so I can give a large gift that will further our relationship?

OK…I have more but I thought I’d point you to another article that makes the point in a different way with some good illustrations of the real costs involved. Jeff Brooks over at Future Fundraising Now wrote an article for this month’s Fundraising Success magazine. He had some great things to say about text giving that are worth a read.

Please understand, I think text giving has merit but I think it doesn’t fit most nonprofits or ministries. The trade-off is too great. In the future, maybe things will be different. Or if you are one of a very few organizations where text giving can fit into an overall strategy, then maybe try it. For most, don’t worry about. Spend the time talking to major donors or planning acquisition for next fall. Those aren’t as fun as planning for a text giving campaign, but will have a greater long-term ROI for your organization.

For more on what we’ve written on text giving and these kinds of traps here are a couple of blog posts:

– Thoughts on the original Twestival for charity:water.
– Thoughts on how texting will change the fundraising world.

So what about your nonprofit or ministry, are you itching to get into text giving? What are you thinking? Are you ready for the plunge?

Always love hearing from you!

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Shane Pope)

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Steve Thomas

7 thoughts on “text-to-give update”

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  3. Deborah Gohrke

    “Think about those kettles at Christmas time…hard to maintain or develop a relationship with the money dropped into one of those, isn’t it?”
    This is the best metaphor for what is wrong with text-giving I’ve heard.

    Much as I like to find friction points to spark the conversation with you, I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said. While impulse charity can obviously raise a lot of money in response to extraordinary circumstances (Haiti), it does not foster long-term, responsible, civic engagement. Not only does it preclude a relationship between the donor and the charity, there is no real social capital built within the broader community around the issue – it’s a one shot, individualistic impulse. Even if all your facebook and twitter friends did too.

    I might alleviate a symptom of poverty momentarily for one person on the street who asks for spare change by buying them a hamburger, but I’ve done nothing to address the issue of poverty. That can only be done collectively, with real social capital. As long as I “think” I am doing my part with impulse giving, I am unlikely to step up and accept some real responsibility through community involvement.

  4. Text to give was a recent topic at the CLA conference and not many organizations are doing. One large organization did it for Haiti relief and it was less than .01% of their fund raising compared to radio, web and direct mail. And they ended up with no relationship with them and no way to follow-up. Before a non-profit does text to give – make sure you know the processing fees (huge!) and look at the data file you get to put into your database (nothing!). So why would you do it?

    If I was 15 years old at a concert and was moved by an artist to text right now to feed a child for $10 – first I’d have to call mom or dad who pays the phone bill and listen to them yell at me for not taking out the garbage like I said I would to pay for my current phone bill. Got a ponder that one. Yea – let’s ask that kid for a second gift.

  5. @Carol–processing fees and the data files! Excellent. As always, love the way you cut through the fuzz.

    And I hadn’t thought about the complications of teenagers texting to give. Hoots and I were wondering how many 15 year olds would ask permission. I suspect that many will just follow that impulse and then the charity could have an unhappy mom and dad on their hands.
    Terrific thoughts.

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