How to use mobile technology for successful holiday fundraising

publication date: Nov 17, 2011
author/source: Doug Plank
Many have described the value of mobile as well as the many disappointments since it was successfully used to raise money for Haiti relief a few years ago. In the initial call to action, concerned mobile users texted "HAITI" to a shortcode and made a $5 or $10 donation through their individual mobile bills.  Since the dollar amount was affordable, more than five million people found donating fast, easy and painless.Doug Plank photo

Until then, most nonprofit professionals weren't aware that mobile was being tested for use in text communication, polling, data gathering and raising funds. Given the state of the economy and its impact on nonprofits, it is understandable that most fundraisers first paid attention when they saw the $30 million plus that was raised for Haiti through mobile phone activities.

Not as easy as Haiti made it look

For many, this also raised the false hope that micro mobile donations would easily replace the donation losses experienced during the down economy. But in the rush to implement, we forgot some of the basic tenets and lessons learned from the advent of online giving - that it takes a commitment to time, testing, familiarization, strategy, and reinforcement with traditional communication.

Based on successful partnerships with several nonprofits over the years, we've developed our top tips for those curious about successfully incorporating their own mobile strategy.

Mobile lists

Start building your mobile lists now. Use all your standard donor data collection methods and include mobile numbers as one of your data fields. You'll have access to the most effective, ubiquitous communication device being carried by literally every current and prospective donor, board member and person you serve. Open rates for text messaging of 95% or more should be incentive enough. Compare those rates to the decreasing email open rate of 35%, and diminishing direct mail rates of single digits.

You'll need a strong story for prospects to want to be on your lists, but that isn't any different than needing a strong story to get your direct mail letters, email, publications and event invitations opened and read. So don't make this too complicated. Start somewhere, even with your most loyal donors, current staff and volunteers.


Begin testing your constituency's receptivity to joining a mobile list and the types of messaging that will appeal to them. Always keep in mind the importance of testing the frequency and type of message your audience prefers. And remember: such testing is incredibly easy and affordable via mobile.

If your messages are meaningful, you will develop mobile into a trusted and highly responsive communication channel with supporters.


Start with easy polling tools available to measure interest and gather opinions suggestions from your mobile lists. Opening this new communication channel by seeking advice and ideas is a great way to establish trust while refining your mobile communication strategy. I've heard time and again how valuable this early step is to developing a strong mobile strategy based on constituency feedback.

Rich media

More than 85% of new handsets are web-enabled. Texting isn't just 140 characters any more. Add a link to a video of your nonprofit delivering services to those in need, messages from staff in the field updating supporters, the CEO making a specific call to action for volunteers, or a message expressing heartfelt gratitude from those who benefit most from your donors' generosity.

The mobile nudge

Nonprofits are finding that sending a text message increases response rates to more traditional communications. They've seen a valuable "lift" in response rates to direct mail, email, event and volunteer invitations and telephone appeals for year-end gifts when a text message was sent as a follow up to reinforce their original message or appeal.

Micro mobile donations

Mobile works very well for securing micro donations of $5 and $10 via a simple, easily understood "call to action" followed by a thank you and an invitation to join your mobile list. Doing that will enable you to offer a tax receipt, which will require donors to provide their names and physical or email addresses. Now you have great data for continued cultivation and securing additional gifts from your "text to give" donors.

Mobile donations aren't always micro

Most fundraisers do not realize the advantages of text pledging: securing a donor commitment that is fulfilled through a credit card. Many of our clients are using this tool at special events. We have seen mobile pledges of $5,000 and $10,000 through this means. Again, the data collected is great - name, address, email - whatever you want to request, if the donor is willing to share.

Mobile web

If you knew that 40% of your constituency were conducting most of their web browsing via their mobile device, how differently would you approach your web presence? Do you have a mobile-friendly website? Are you anticipating or responding to this fact?


It isn't complicated but you need to think through your objectives for mobile. Keep in mind that integration with your other communication channels is important.

  • Your initial objective should be to build a mobile list (regardless of size) that you can begin testing for receptivity to message content and frequency.
  • Poll your "test" list and get feedback on their experience. Most participants think mobile polling is a great tool and that you (the nonprofit) really care about their opinion. Also, it is great fun and actually very easy to administer.
  • Integrate texting to supplement and support a call to action through email, direct mail or in person.
  • Initiate a peer-to-peer mobile solicitation campaign.
  • Create a story around your organization's desire to go mobile, and seek feedback from your early adopters and those who resist.

It's affordable, it's effective, and it's flexible. Your competition is already using or planning to use mobile soon. According to Mobile Commerce Daily, 50% of nonprofits will use mobile in some way by 2012.

The don'ts

There's only one. Don't wait!

Doug Plank is chairman/CEO and founder of MobileCause. During his 31 years of professional leadership in cause-related and non-profit institutions, he has facilitated campaigns totaling more than $500 million. He is a frequent speaker at nonprofit and technology conferences.

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