The earthquake that rocked Haiti in January inspired an unparalleled level of anonymous philanthropy. One of the most successful fundraising strategies to emerge from the earthquake was the Red Cross text-to-give campaign. While this strategy had been utilized modestly during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, text-to-give raised more than $30 million for Haiti — mostly by $10 dollar donations, in just two weeks.
What a difference 5 years makes. The fact that more people carry cell phones now is an obvious reason for the increase in fundraising potential. But I believe it is more than that. People are now connected to the world by their mobile device through web browsing, news alerts, Twitter, RSS feeds, etc. They see the world and interact with it through their cell phone.
There is another dimension. Cell phone donations are a way of remaining detached from reoccurring fundraising drives. It’s a one-time commitment. This is appealing to people who don’t want to spend the next six months trying to unsubscribe to mailing lists. Instead of thumbing through a glossy mailing pamphlet or reading a lachrymose donation email, people feel like they’ve chosen to give when they donate via cell phone as opposed to being coerced into it.
Nonprofits and political campaigns should take heed of this trend.
For example, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul is famous for an online fundraising blitz known as the “money bomb”. Last month during a huge rally at Kentucky’s annual Fancy Farm picnic, I think Paul missed an opportunity to take it one step further.
He could have announced the money bomb, told the crowd to text “money bomb” to donate $10, and ran short radio ads with the same message for people to listen to when they are stuck in traffic on the way home. Not only do people forget, but why make them wait to get to a computer when they can donate instantaneously?
Paul has done very well with internet donations because much of his libertarian support comes from out of state, but I think it is foolish to limit yourself to a specific rather than a diverse fundraising strategy. Using text-to-give messages for rallies and ads will capture donations where traditional and even online means fail.