Texting-to-donate: why and how it’s working in Canada

publication date: Dec 10, 2012
author/source: Katherine Winchester
The Mobile Giving Foundation Canada (MGFC) is the enabling charity of text-to-donate in Canada, thanks to the support of participating wireless service providers (WSPs). In an effort to understand text message donors, MGFC has reviewed the consumer attitudes survey conducted by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association two years in a.row.

Some highlights from the survey results are:
  • 50% of mobile users in Canada are aware of the ability to complete a donation via text message.  
  • This awareness is higher among those aged 18-34.  
  • Text message donations are prompted most by appeals on TV, followed by appeals made through social media.  
  • Text donors are highly satisfied with their experience; 90% of text donors would donate again through this method, and 83% would recommend this form of donating to a friend.  
  • Text donors are most interested in follow-ups that report on how donations are being put to use; an astounding 53% are interested in knowing the total tally of funds raised.  
  • 16% of those aged 18-34 expressed a high level of interest in opting in to the monthly recurring gift option. 
Fifty percent of Canadian mobile users lack awareness of the ability to send a text message donation. More work must be done to promote this channel and to build trust among Canadian mobile users. 

We must also pay attention to a distinct trend in demographics - the prevailing target audience are those aged 18-34. We must also encourage those who do text-to-donate to share the ability to do so with their friends. Social media is more readily available than TV and can be used to communicate not only how the funds are being used, but also the total funds raised. Gathered from the survey results, these are the best avenues to take to increase response from potential donors. 

A complete copy of the consumer attitudes survey results is available here.   

Success stories 

Many people hear text-to-donate and think, "emergency relief." We all know that text-to-donate draws mass response in emergency relief situations. I want to highlight the success stories of charities that have committed to their mobile giving program and have made it work outside emergency relief situations. I also want to focus on a couple of charities that are not large, but have still managed to make text-to-donate successful as a part of their overall fundraising strategy. 

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada 

Text LTNOntario to 45678 to make a $5 donation to the Light the Night Ontario campaign 

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada established a plan to promote their text-to-donate program for the Light the Night Ontario campaign that took place earlier this fall. 

To accurately allocate funds to its Ontario program, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society utilized what we call a "sub-keyword." (Ontario) after the keyword LTN. That made it possible to track the two allocations separately. The society avoided the added cost of an entirely new keyword, and easily captured the intent of the donors. 


In two weeks, approximately $1,600 was raised through text message donations. At the kick-off party a 4% response led to $1,200 in text message donations. Of this, there were 317 unique donors and three donors that gave more than once. 

Success factors 
  • Clearly communicating the fundraising goal; 
  • Using social media for updates on funds raised;  
  • Appeal to emotions to drive action and provide a sense of togetherness in supporting the cause; and  
  • Consistent messaging that matched the branding of Light the Night Ontario in the call to action. 
Missed opportunity 

In hindsight, more sub-keywords could have been used to gain an even greater response. A sub-keyword could have been established for each individual volunteer fundraiser. Volunteer fundraisers could have then promoted their specific text-to-donate call to action. 

In that scenario, the funds would have been tracked back to the volunteer, who would be eligible for a prize to the individual raising the most funds throughout the campaign. Sub-keywords would have established a competitive environment where the broadest possible reach could have been achieved. The organization plans to use additional sub-keywords for future campaign promotions.   

Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation 

Text TBHEALTH to 20222 to donate $10 to the "I owe Michael Antcliffe $10" campaign 

Text HOPE to 20222 to donate $10 to the Northern Cancer Fund 

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation launched its first mobile giving campaign in the early summer of 2012 after researching how text-to-donate could engage new supporters and raise additional funds. Two distinct campaigns were run throughout the summer with the keywords and taglines above. 

  • Three major appeals across two campaigns averaged over $800 in funds raised for each appeal.
  • Every Facebook share equated to approximately 3-4 text message donations.  
  • Unexpected cash donations were received from an older demographic during live audience promotions. 
Success factors 
  • Thorough planning prior to launch, setting realistic expectations, and defining goals;  
  • Educating potential donors on how to use text-to-donate; 
  • Encouraging sharing through social media; and 
  • Creating a personal connection to the cause. 
Monthly recurring sustainable gifts 

MGFC's biggest success story this year relates to the launch of a recurring monthly sustainable gift feature available to existing applicants with long-term campaigns. After completing a one-time gift, donors are invited to join the recurring program. If the donor opts in, a donation is confirmed via text message every month until the donor makes a decision to opt out by sending STOP to the applicable short code number. 

The UN World Food Programme, the Ottawa Mission Foundation, Breakfast Clubs of Canada and the BC and Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion are among the first to add the recurring gift option to their campaigns. We're seeing an average opt-in rate of 7%, a high of 34% and a low of 2%. The recurring feature is available for both $5 and $10 text-to-donate campaigns, but we are seeing a tendency for higher opt-in rates among the $5 campaigns. Released in September, the feature is showing much promise for the success of charitable text-to-donate campaigns.  

This article is adapted from a presentation given at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Greater Toronto Chapter) Congress 2012 in November. Next week, watch for Katherine's article on challenges and success tips for mobile giving. 

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 kwinchester@mobilegiving.ca, 613-233-4888 x216; www.mobilegiving.ca

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