$37 Million given in January 2010.
Incredible. Unbelievable. The Red Cross, together with mGive, made history in January with possibly the biggest text message fundraising campaign ever.

How does Text Message fundraising work?
People text a certain amount of digits, or letters, to a certain number. Then this text message creates an added $5 to $10 on their phone bill. When they pay their phone bill, they donate to your organization. And after people donated, they could receive messages from the Red Cross about where their money went, and new giving initiatives. What a useful tool for fundraisers! People actually READ text messages, unlike appeal letters and annual reports! However, as Allison Fine has remarked, it should be used in the context of a larger offline and online marketing campaign. It is not a be-all, end-all tool in itself.

How can you get a successful text message fundraising campaign started for your organization?
If you want advice on Text Message Fundraising, Beth Kanter recommends Mobile Active. Here is a good article on how to use SMS not just for fundraising, but for activism, raising awareness, and increasing volunteerism. It also has recommendations for how to DIY your own SMS campaign, what sorts of software you’ll need, and more. For a US company that helps you send bulk text messages, you could try Mobile Commons. Also, here’s a comprehensive list of companies in the US currently doing text message services.

If you can’t be bothered to DIY, and just want a SMS fundraising solution out of a box, it will cost you, but here are two US Companies that are currently set up to help you with SMS fundraising: mGive and Mobile Giving Foundation (pictured above).

If you’re a large organization, mGive and Mobile Giving Foundation have guidelines you need to fall under:

1. Your nonprofit needs to have 501 (c) 3 status, and file a 990 form,
2. Have raised at least $500,000 in the last year,
3. Needs to be registered as a charity in any state where people are giving from, unless you’re “sponsored” by a national charity.
4. You need to be current in all of your filings, including incorporation documents.
5. You need to have been in operation at least one year.
6. You have to be honest, and up front with exactly how much you’re raising, where the money goes, and how you’re soliciting people.
7. You need to make it easy for people to be anonymous, and opt out.

If you’re approved, in two weeks, you’ll need to invest between $3,000-$10,000 to make your mobile fundraising happen. For that money, these two organizations take care of all of the details of how money gets from donors to your nonprofit’s bank account. It can take up to 90 days to get this money, because it is paid when people pay their cell phone bills.

If you’re a smaller organization, there is a solution for you, and one that’s a lot less expensive, too. GreaterGiving.us is a mobile donation provider that works with smaller nonprofits.


Who would donate via this method?
People who see your cause’s story on TV, or hear about it on the radio, or see it in an internet ad, (even from your own e-newsletter) and want to donate, instantly.

The real question is, how can you make your message compelling enough to get text donations?
Obviously, the US State Department isn’t going to step in for you, not even if you stamp on the ground really hard and have an “earthquake” at your desk. This is where offline marketing is useful. If you can get media attention around your cause via TV, newspapers, and radio, you can have a chance to tell people what to text if they want to donate to you. And if you have a large e-newsletter list, and send it out once or twice a month, this will help you as well. So this only works if you’ve ramped up your marketing and community building to the extent that tons of people see you, know about you, read your e-newsletters, and donate to you already. The Red Cross is a $3 BILLION dollar nonprofit. So… they’re successful because everyone knows their cause.

If you want the breakdown of exactly how mobile fundraising this works, Mobile Active has the answer for you.

Are you currently utilizing SMS fundraising?

How is that working out for you? Leave a comment below.