Mobile giving’s coming out party

As you’ve no doubt seen and heard, the American Red Cross has raised over $20 million in their mobile campaign in support of Haiti. This represents over 2 million $10 donations, a truly unprecedented feat in mobile fundraising. Geoff Livingston of Mashable calls this the “maturation of mobile giving” and groups are scrambling to get set up on the next great tool.

Marketers are scrambling to the flavor of the week in the vain hope they have found the silver bullet to make up for declining response rates and increasing costs in traditional channels. If you can’t tell from my tone, I’m skeptical. Of course, I am from the East Coast so it is my job to keep the starry-eyed dreamers in Poulsbo in check. My biggest issue with the hoopla around what the Red Cross is doing is that they are only using one tactic in the mobile channel—a tactic that still has serious hurdles for long-term engagement.

The Agitator raises some great questions about mobile fundraising, one of which I can answer: “Do the recipient organizations receive any contact information regarding their new donors?” The answer is yes, but just a donor’s cell phone number, city and State. Not very useful in cultivating a relationship with donors. Text2Give is a great tactic, but because of the $10 top limit on a donation, the only way to return significant revenue is through a significant number of people giving. That $10 limit also means that a nonprofit generally shouldn’t promote the mobile giving option in other channels, unless those other channels have an average gift amount of $10 or less.

Even the average gift we see in direct mail acquisition for the ministries we work with is at least twice that, and average online giving at least five times that. Television is the only channel where a nonprofit can reach the number of people necessary to make a serious fundraising effort with Text2Give. Fortunately, for the Red Cross, you couldn’t go 15 minutes watching a football game this weekend without seeing a promo. Football games seen by tens of millions of people. Don’t get me wrong, the Red Cross was right to partner with the NFL and I’m glad that millions of people are supporting Haiti at this critical time. So this tactic worked for the Red Cross to raise an unprecedented amount of money via Text2Give.

However, unless you have a Presidential endorsement and a way to get in front of tens of millions of people, it can’t be your only tactic in the mobile channel, and the mobile channel can’t be your only channel. This may sound like a broken record, but only truly integrated campaigns —using each channel where it is best suited— will maximize return for your ministry. Text2Give is perfect in places where response rates have been traditionally low or response isn’t even truly possible.

Areas like space ads, social media and events are clear places where mobile makes soliciting a gift possible where before it was not. So if you are clamoring to jump into the mobile giving game, good. It is an important, emerging channel that should be part of any integrated campaign. But if you are looking to the single tactic of Text2Give to generate significant revenue for your ministry, I think you will be disappointed in the results. Think I’m wrong? Am I being a wet blanket? Has the cold weather on the East Coast chilled my heart? Leave a comment and let me know.