Messaging and non-profit fundraising

Today’s show is another response to questions that I found this week. This time the questions came from a list serve that I subscribe to, and the focus was about how non-profits can use text messaging for fundraising. I responded on the list serve and was kind of surprised that I hadn’t already done a podcast on this.

One interesting thing about podcasts is that it’s really hard to know who is listening. We get stats on how many people download, but it’s not possible to know who you listeners are. If you’re not a non-profit, keep listening. If you are interested in Messaging, there is a lot to learn from the non-profit space. This might not be typical – or stereotypical – nonprofits usually aren’t thought of as being on the vanguard of technology. But I would posit that NPOs are really leading the charge when it comes to messaging, especially text messaging.

Think about it – in 2008 Obama announced his VP pick via SMS. That was a national news story and almost a decade ago. A year and a half after that, the Haiti earthquake happened and mobile donations exploded on the scene. The Red Cross raised 36 million dollars from Americans texting Haiti to 90999 and giving $5 donations on their phone bill.

So as messaging and bots came back into vogue in 2016 when FB Messenger announced the messenger platform, it wasn’t really a breakthrough. A lot of organizations were already doing SMS campaigns.

But before we get too far into the conversation, a little promotion. If this is the first time you’re listening to The Chat Bubble Podcast, please subscribe on itunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you have a question or feedback, the best way to get in touch is to message us on Facebook. To do that open Facebook Messenger, search for The Chat Bubble and then send in a Message. Of course, thanks for listening everyone.

Why are non-profits advanced?
Back to non-profits. I’m pretty convinced that NPOs are pretty far ahead of the game compared to commercial businesses. There are a lot of companies doing SMS, certainly more than there are NPOs, but I haven’t seen the same type of innovation from business. I’m not sure why exactly, but I actually have a new theory. Previously I had 2 ideas as to why non-profits seemed to be out in front of corporations.

1. It’s pretty simple, I thought it was vendor-driven. Being in that space, I knew a number of vendors doing innovative campaigns. When I saw and heard about some of the SMS vendors working with for profits, I wasn’t that impressed. I doubt this is still the case, but it was a few years ago.

2. The second theory was the nature of non-profit communications. When the non-profit finds a new supporter, they aren’t focused on the short term donation, it’s nice of course, but the organization is also thinking about this person donating 50 thousand dollars in their will. The idea of ongoing CRM and building a relationship is incredibly important. I worked with many for-profit companies where we would build a big list, and then just stop communicating with people once the conversation was over. This mindset is changing a bit, but this change isn’t wide spread. I spend thousands of dollars on my car and never hear from the manufacturer or the dealer for that matter.

I think this second idea sticks a bit, but the big reason that nonprofits have had better results with SMS is user driven. Messaging is a personal channel. It’s a little scary for a consumer to trust a company on the user’s personal channel, but a non-profit that focuses on a cause the person cares about. Yes, they’ll connect on that personal channel. If you love dogs, you’re willing to give the Humane Society your phone number. No matter how much you love hot dogs, you don’t want Oscar Meyer texting you.

That’s the theory at least.

Anyway back to the question about how non-profits can drive fundraising via SMS. We’re going to list a few options. One point to think about with all of these options is – where does the transaction happen. If you work at a non-profit, think about that and think about if where the transaction happens is important to you.

1. Mobile Donations — Our first option for non-profit fundraising is a Mobile Donation. This is sometimes called mobile giving or text to donate, but the idea here is that the donation goes on the users phone bill. That’s what distinguishes mobile donations. When I mentioned the Red Cross raising money for Haiti, this is what they did.

The advantage is that it’s easy and fast to drive small donations from individuals. With mobile donations the organization can collect $5, $10 or $25 dollar donations. They set up the campaign and select a keyword. The user texts in the keyword and recieves an immediate response asking them to confirm the donation. The user replies yes and then the charge is added to the phone bill. That’s all the user needs to do – except pay their phone bill obviously.

The downside of mobile donations is that the carriers are collecting money and remitting it all to the non-profit, but the carrier doesn’t give the customer data to the non-profit. Most of the time, this is a problem for the non-profit – the donors data is just as important as the donation – especially a small donation like 5 or 10 dollars.

So mobile donations are mostly used in disaster type situations. If something is front page news, like a hurricane for instance, there might be a lot of people willing to chip in. The non profit might be in major fundraising mode, but these people that want to help are not the typical donor for the organization. They are donating because the news or celebrity tells them to do so. The non-profit probably doesn’t even want this donor in their CRM becuase they are so unlikely to donate again or want updates from the organization.

Basically, mobile donations work when the organization would rather have a small donation, rather than the donor and their information.

We’re going to move on to the next approach for an organization, text to pledge.

2. Text to Pledge – This is a term of art. Basically, it means that the organization builds an autoresponse conversation that collects contact information and donation amount or “pledge” amount. The supporter is then followed up with to complete the transaction. Usually this followup is via email, a link in a text or even a phone call.

This idea originated because mobile donations (added on the phone bill) became a big trend after the Haiti earthquake. But setting up text donations was a process and it’s fairly inflexible – there are low donation amounts and no data. A few companies started promoting this idea of text to pledge and it fit well for some organizations. Most of the time it’s more of a service than a product – so the text to pledge vendor might be running the event or staff the people that are calling on the phone.

I mentioned that text to pledge is a term of art. The idea of collecting data over SMS and driving action is kindof what every organization is doing. Text to Pledge means speeding up the interaction and trying to squeeze everything into a single day or single campaign. When I was selling SMS software, our pitch wasn’t opposed to text to pledge, but we viewed SMS as a long term channel for the organization – not just something that powers an event.

Text to Pledge is a short term campaign, focused on a little data collection and driving a transaction.

3. Integrated Transaction – The next fundraising approach doesn’t really have a name. It’s been called quick donate or fast donate. I’m calling it an integrated transaction — not super-catchy. What this means is that an action in the text message triggers the credit card transaction. This is pretty powerful. Text messages have high open rates and high response rates. If someone signs up for the SMS list, they are generally a big fan, not just checking it out. If these people can be sent a message and complete a donation with only a few clicks, that’s a big deal.

This is exactly what we talked about with Lloyd Cotler who managed SMS on the Hillary Clinton Campaign. You can check out that past episode – it’s from November 25 of 2017. This integrated transaction is pretty advanced and only a few organizations have been able to pull this off. The results are generally great, so hopefully any technical issues can be worked out and more organizations can take this approach.

In order for this integrated transaction to work, a few pieces need to be in place. First the organization needs a system that can save a credit card and attach it to the user. This generally won’t happen in the text message platform, but some non profit CRMs/donation platforms allow this. Once it’s possible for this credit card to be saved then the SMS platform just pings the CRM system and tells it to drive a transaction. There are probably a million particular details, but this is the gist.

When done correctly this is a home run. We already have the user data, the transaction can be fast, and the donor can choose any amount to donate. I guess the one hang up is that it’s not great for first time donors. The supporter would have needed to give their cc previously in order to have that saved. This type of transaction is also a shift in timeline – compared to text to donate or text to plege. With those options, the entire messaging interaction is focused on the donation. Literally, the call to action says, Text In To Donate. This integrated Transaction works with an ongoing relationship. we’ve been building a list and communicating regularly and this donation ask, is just one ask throughou the relationship.

The other interesting thing – in my work on FB Messenger, this integrated donation is a little smoother. It’s not being done yet, although it’s quiet possible.

4. Campaigning – The last approach to fundraising doesn’t really have a name. I’m just going to call it text message campaigning. In my opinion this is obviously the way that makes the most sense. When an organization launches a website, it’s not just a page to make a donation. There’s campaign information, petitions, about us, contact us and then also pages to donate. Same with an email campaign. No one would join the email list if the pitch was – sign up for our email list and we’ll ask you to donate over and over again. Email and the web are channels. The organization needs to connect with users, share information and of course every once in a while, ask for donations.

It’s the same with a text message list. The organization needs to build their mobile list and start with interesting and engaging commmunications and then mix in donation asks. You would never build a one page website and then tell people to go there to donate. Telling people to text in to donate would be analogous to that one page website. Sure, when there’s an emergency and it’s all about fundraising, maybe the donation form goes on the home page – but that’s rare.

What works for most organizations is to build a mobile SMS list, and keep the people on that list active. The same way they’d build an email list and keep it active. When there is a fundraising campaign the organization will send out an email ask, and at that time, they should also send a text to the mobile list. Even if the user doesn’t donate, by clicking the link in the text, the SMS will make the supporter more likely to donate online. In the past I’ve done a study and found that and a supporter that receives a text and an email is 3 times more likely to donate, compared to someone that receives an email and no text message. Most of those donors just aren’t donating on the phone.

So again, it all comes down to building a list, nurturing that list and giving people a good reason to support the organization.

New Channels — I mentioned it a little, approaches that we already listed, but there’s also an additional option where an organization can use Messenger and take advanatage of Facebook donate or a saved credit card that FB might be holding. I expect this will be possible, but w just need to see if this comes to fruition.

To sum up, there are really a lot of approaches when it comes to fundraising via messaging. The big questions that an organization needs to ask are – 1) How are we going to get people to message in. Same as if you built a website, you would need to decide, “How will we get people to the site.” The other question is about the transaction. What type of amounts make sense, and would you like the donation coming through a credit card or to try something more advanced. And like everything in life, there aren’t too many shortcuts. What really works is to connect with supporters, engage and nurture the list and make strong asks that are connected to issues that the list cares about.

Hope this was a helpful overview. I’d love questions or feedback….

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