Challenges, checklists and forecasts for text-to-donate

publication date: Dec 17, 2012
author/source: Katherine Winchester
This article concludes a two-part series adapted from a presentation given at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Greater Toronto Chapter) Congress 2012 in November. Read Part 1 here.

The challenges 

With every new success, we continue to see challenges and missed opportunities. Many of these challenges center around three main topics: 
  1. Connection 
  2. Communication 
  3. Strategy 
We see many charities struggle to connect text donors to their cause and vice versa. The challenge lies in crafting a message to potential text donors that is personal, relevant, and meaningful, and one that actually elicits a response. We also see a challenge in obtaining cross-departmental support to fully integrate the text-to-donate aspect. Too often, not everyone within an organization is on board with the text-to-donate program; too often there is a misguided fear of cannibalization. 

Lastly, we continue to see challenges with building a strategy that fully incorporates the text-to-donate channel. Approximately 30% of the charities running a text-to-donate campaign in Canada do not have anything listed online regarding the ability for supporters to donate by text. This is a missed opportunity. Furthermore, many charities embark on a text-to-donate program without any plan or goal in mind, and do so at the very last minute as an afterthought. Of course, these are not the ideal circumstances and are far from conducive to high response rates. 

What are the steps that charities need to take prior to launching a text-to-donate campaign, and how can we work to combat these challenges? 

The checklist 

More than anything, the purpose of the Mobile Giving Foundation of Canada is to serve as a benefit to the charitable sector. We are not successful unless charities are successful. For this reason, I have put together a list of essential areas that all charities should contemplate prior to launching a mobile giving program. 
  • Goal Set a realistic expectation for how much you want to raise through text-to-donate while considering the additional non-monetary value of engaging a new group of supporters and potential donors to your cause. Your goal should also look at gaining a return on your investment. Understanding the cost is critical. 
  • Plan Outline a detailed plan of action and include variables that can be measured in determining the success of achieving your goal. 
  • Internal support Your plan to achieve the defined goal may involve other departments. It is critical to gain the support of these groups prior to launching a text-to-donate campaign. 
  • Cross channel promotion Remember, text-to-donate is just another vehicle for donating. With it comes a whole new generation of donors. Promote the call to action across various channels to gain the broadest reach wherever the eyes of your target audience are. 
  • Connecting the cause to the text-donor Using an appropriate appeal to emotion means understanding who your text-donors are and what they care about. Providing this along with a sense of urgency helps to connect a text-donor to your cause. Quantifying how the individual or sum of all individual donations will impact the cause only strengthens this connection. 
  • External education Understand and provide an explanation of how the text-to-donate channel works: how the donation is processed, where to get a receipt, how many times a donor can donate through text per month. 
In store for the future 

MGFC is always looking towards the future of mobile and how this channel can be leveraged for use by the charitable sector in a way that keeps Canadians connected to the causes they care most about. It is currently exploring opportunities in mobile games and applications that offer a higher degree of interaction and donor engagement. 

It's also working diligently to gain national coverage with the support of all wireless service providers (WSPs) in Canada. And with them, it is seeking approval for higher donation points at $20 and $25. 

It will continue to conduct and share annual research that is integral to understanding the mobile channel, its applicability in the charitable arena, and the motivations that turn mobile users into text donors.  

How MGFC operates 

Participating WSPs have modified their systems to allow donations to be charged as tax-exempt charitable gifts on donors' wireless bills or deducted from their prepaid balance. WSPs do not take a portion of any donations, nor do they charge a text-messaging fee for messages that complete donations. MGFC's role is to maintain these existing relationships and to continue to build new ones with WSPs that are not yet participating in mobile giving. 

MGFC validates applicant charitable/qualified donee status to ensure the legitimacy of organizations applying to offer mobile giving programs. It also controls standardized messages related to the text-to-donate message flow, where it must maintain compliance with all applicable guidelines regulating such communication. 

Additionally, MGFC acts as the provisioning body for all text-to-donate campaigns in Canada; once activated, it also tests new campaigns to ensure proper functionality. All of this leads into its responsibility of tracking and reporting each pledged donation for invoicing to the participating WSPs, and consolidating the individual carrier payments for charity remittance. 

As a registered charity itself, to which all text donations are made for the benefit other charities, we enable donors to obtain a tax receipt from our online tool. This allows donors to make text message donations throughout the year and obtain a tax receipt at their preferred times. 

In addition to the above, MGFC provides support to all the participating charities, carriers, and donors involved in text-to-donate. On their behalf it conducts research and works to educate, promote and build awareness about the mobile giving channel. Part of this includes responding to the feedback and growing needs of the charitable sector it serves. 

Katherine Winchester is the Administrator of the Mobile Giving Foundation, where she manages day-to-day operations along with all major projects for text-to-donate programs, and works to broaden the awareness of its applicable use in the charitable sector. 

Contact her at, 613-233-4888 x216;

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