Website Magazine recently published 5 Signs that 2010 will be The Year of Mobile. Unfortunately, the article did not include any mention of the increasing use of mobile phones for philanthropy, plus it was published before the Haiti crisis.
Now, after the massive earthquake in Haiti, we certainly know that mobile giving has broken through the sound barrier and taken off.
By the weekend after the earthquake, the American Red Cross had raised more than $10 million for Haiti relief through its text-to-give campaign. By the following Monday, that total had reached $22 million. Several other charities were raising money through mobile means as well, but the Red Cross was raising the most.
The question is: why did mobile giving take off during this crisis? Here are my thoughts about that question, focusing on the Red Cross campaign.
- Use of mobile phones has reached a critical threshold.
As reported by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project in December of 2009, 83% of adults had cell phones or smart phones. Some 35% of those people have accessed the Internet on their phones. People are increasingly familiar with using mobile phone technology to do a variety of tasks beyond just making phone calls. They can engage in social networking, do their banking, purchase goods, and more. When the call went out to text "Haiti" to 909999, to donate $10 to the Red Cross, millions responded from wherever they were because they had the technology and knew how to use it.
- Mobile Giving was ready.
Mobile giving is quite new. One of the first campaigns was a 10-second United Way PSA that played during the Super Bowl in 2008, raising a cool $10,000 in 10 seconds from $5 donations.
Teleton MexAmerica included mobile giving during an annual telethon in December of 2008, raising some $77,000. They repeated that campaign in 2009 and took in more than $200,000 from mobile donations.
Alicia Keys began raising funds through mobile at her concerts to aid African children affected by AIDS. Her campaign, Keep a Child Alive, ultimately went on American Idol, raising almost a half million dollars with one call to action.
By the Haitian crisis last week, the road had been paved for a big push for mobile donations, the methodology was worked out, and consumers had been educated.
- The Red Cross was ready.
Although it is easy to make a donation via mobile, it is not a simple matter for a nonprofit to set up a mobile giving campaign. Setting up the system and getting a "shortcode" in place is expensive. Then there are the transaction fees charged by various entities that are involved. In this case, the fees have been waived because of the overwhelming need.
More important is that the Red Cross has already worked in this arena, having run prior mobile giving campaigns. The organization knew what to do, what mistakes to avoid, and how to get the word out. They rode the rising tide of media attention, bolstered by the backing of the state department, the White House (Michelle Obama appeared in a PSA encouraging donations), and world-wide attention.
- The Red Cross marketing campaign is over the top effective.
The Red Cross campaign is a simple, direct call to action: "Send A Message & Save A Life, Donate $10 To Red Cross Haiti Relief, Text Haiti To 90999." It couldn't be more KISS (keep it simple stupid). The action required is simple, convenient, and immediate.
A mobile campaign also works beautifully with social media tools. It is easy to spread that message by Twitter and Facebook, and millions have done so. It is also easy to magnify the message as some people and companies on Twitter have done by pledging an additional donation for every mention of the message or for every follower they gain. Mobile giving and social media seem destined for one another.
The media coverage of the catastrophic events in Haiti carried the complexities of the situation, so the Red Cross did not need to muddy its simple message. But its website and online press room incorporated updates from the ground in Haiti and riveting video of what was happening for anyone who reached the site to learn more or donate through more traditional means.
The simple gravitas of the Red Cross brand ensured that important people and institutions would partner with it. These included the White House, the Corporation for National and Community Service, most media companies, and major corporations. In this case, being big, historical, connected, and well-staffed paid off. The Red Cross was uniquely positioned to raise a lot of money for Haiti relief.
- The New York Times details how the campaign got off to such a fast start in A Deluge of Donations via Text Messages
- Charity Navigator answers the question, "Are Text Donations Safe?"
- Allyson Kapin, of Frogloop, has a very good explanation of what is involved with mobile donations and why nonprofits should start engaging in this form of fundraising.
- Lucy Bernholz reflects on mobile giving and the "long tail" market at her blog, Philanthropy 2173.
- Advertising Age probes some of the confusion about Haiti relief created by social media and how it got cured by social media.