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Shaun Dakin 10 min read

The Latest in Mobile (Giving) Campaigns

Recently, the Progressive Communicators of Washington, DC (PCDC) held a panel discussion on Mobile Communications for Progressives at the World Wildlife Fund here in DC. The purpose was to bring together some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the area of mobile campaigns and to find out what is working for nonprofits.

The speakers Included The Following:

  • Jeff Lee: Moderator and past President of Distributive Networks, the company that ran the Obama text messaging campaign in 2008.
  • Jed Alpert: Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Mobile Commons, a leading mobile SMS campaign provider.
  • Susan Murray: Sr. Officer for the Red Cross managing corporate partnerships. Susan was responsible for the record breaking Haiti SMS text campaign that brought in over $30 million via mobile phones.
  • Ron Vassallo: CEO of Kaptivate and Author of Are We There Yet? Non-Profit Adoption of Mobile Giving.
  • Rachel Labruyere:  Reform Immigration FOR America (RI4A) Campaign. Rachel LaBruyere is the Deputy Online Director for the Reform Immigration FOR America (RI4A) campaign where she manages one of the largest SMS lists in the nation at over 140,000 names and numbers.

  • David Miller: David Miller is the founder and CEO of Mobile Discovery, a leading mobile and social media technology company enabling new types of interactive marketing

One key take away from the event from my perspective was around the fact that SMS and mobile giving dominated the discussion. This is no surprise, as Susan Murray from the Red Cross was a panel member and non-profits are always looking for additional channels to raise money.

Can't I Get One Of Those?  (SMS Mobile Giving Campaigns):

Unfortunately, mobile giving via SMS is not nearly as easy as putting up a "donate now" page on your  website. SMS short codes are controlled by the telecommunications carriers and all giving programs must be approved by the Mobile Giving Foundation (MGF) which has stringent requirements for who can provide mobile giving and who can develop a mobile giving program.

For example there are only nine providers that a non profit organization can use to run a mobile SMS giving program.  If you want to do a program, you must use one of the nine providers. Mobile Commons is one of these providers and Jed Alpert on the panel was able to speak to some of the specifics around what the MGF requires of non profit organizations.

The largest requirement is that the 501(c)(3) must have gross revenues of at least $500,000. That requirement alone leaves many smaller and regional non-profits unable to even play in the mobile SMS giving world.

Who Is The Mobile Giving Foundation?  Why Must All SMS Based Giving Programs Go Through Them?

The blessing and curse of SMS is that it is controlled by the carriers, completely. This is a good thing in that no one gets to use SMS technology who would like to be a spammer.  There is "no" spam via SMS (and if there is, the carriers find you and shut you down, for good).  

So, unlike email, the end user knows that they are unlikely to get SMS spam and that if they ever do, they can reply "stop" and leave the campaign immediately. SMS "open rates" are close to 100%.

So, while non-profits would like to raise money via SMS, the carriers don't see the business benefit, particularly in the operational resource requirements dealing with 1000's of separate nonprofit organizations that are unlikely to deliver much revenue.

In comes the MGF. They are the conduit between the nonprofits and the carriers. The carriers rely on the MGF to make sure that the nonprofits that participate in the program are appropriately vetted and meet a threshhold level of participation.

So the MGF, ".... was created to combine the incredible scope and capabilities of the US wireless industry with a need for charitable organizations to find a new class of donors and newer, more intuitive methods of facilitating contributions. Specifically, MGF works with US wireless carriers to offer a “Mobile Giving Channel,” a single channel available to wireless subscribers of all US wireless carriers by which users can instantaneously respond to charitable solicitations by a text message."

If you want to start a mobile giving campaign you must start with MGF.

How Effective Are Mobile Giving Campaigns?

The Red Cross raised $32 million for Haiti with mobile SMS giving. Susan Murray was clear, however, that there were a number of critical elements that came together for this once in a lifetime (we hope) event:

  1. A critical catastrophic event
  2. Full earned media support (CNN, tv, radio, web)
  3. State Department support through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  4. Carrier cooperation and waiving of fees (revenue share)

There were many other critical issues discussed during the event, but not enough time or space to devote to all of it. Lucky you - however, in that the entire event was recorded and can be found at the links below.

Further Information And Archived Live Stream:

  1. Live stream archive.  If you missed it or want to watch it again, the event is archived over at Ustream. Click here. NOTE: We had some issues with sound at the start but fixed it quickly.
  2. Twitter Archive.  The live tweets from the event are archived at WhatTheHashtag.  The Hashtag for the event was #pcdc. 
  3. Live Blog.  The live blog of the event can be found here 

 *Shaun Dakin, Director, Business Development, Infield Communications.  You can follow Shaun on twitter at @ShaunDakin

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