9 Tips For Incorporating Holiday Mobile Technology

November 8, 2011       Doug Plank      

To quote Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light…”

Many nonprofits have experienced the best of times with mobile and many have seen the worst of times. There has been wisdom and foolishness, belief (mixed with a lot of hope), certainly incredulousness and light.

Why end with ‘light?’ Because a couple thousand nonprofits have truly been trying to figure out how best to use this new tool and there are considerable lessons learned to be shared.

Many describe the value of mobile, as well as the many disappointments, since it was successfully used as a way to raise money for Haiti relief a few years ago. In the initial call to action, concerned mobile users texted ‘HAITI’ to a shortcode and made a $5 or $10 donation through their individual mobile bills. Since the dollar amount was affordable, more than five million people found donating fast, easy and painless.

Until then, most nonprofit professionals weren’t aware that mobile had already been around for a few years and its utilization was being tested for text communication, polling, data gathering and raising funds. Given the state of the economy, and its impact on each nonprofit’s need to replace endowment losses, donor attrition, or minimally raise at least as much as the previous year, it is understandable why most professionals who raise money for a living first started to pay attention when they saw the $30 million plus that was raised for Haiti through mobile phone activities.

For many, this also raised the false hope that micro mobile donations could/would easily replace the donation losses experienced during the down economy. But in the rush to do so, we forgot some of the basic tenants and lessons learned from the advent of online giving—that it takes a commitment to time, testing, familiarization, strategy, and reinforcement with traditional communication that leads to adoption.

Here are some tips for those curious about successfully incorporating their own mobile strategy.

Mobile Lists: Start building your mobile lists. Collect those mobile numbers however you can — online, email, standard donor pledge forms. Use all of your standard donor collection methods and include mobile numbers as one of your desired data fields. What development professional wouldn’t want access to the most effective ubiquitous communication device being carried by literally every current and prospective donor, board member and person they serve?

Open rates for text messaging exceeding 95 percent should be incentive enough. Compare those rates to the decreasing email open rate of 35 percent and diminishing direct mail rates of single digits.

Granted you’ll need to have a strong enough story for them to want to be a part of your lists, but that isn’t any different than needing to have a strong enough story to get our direct mail letters, email, publications and event invitations opened and read. Don’t make this too complicated. Start somewhere, even with your most loyal donors, current staff and volunteers.

Test: Begin testing receptivity of your constituency to joining a mobile list and the types of messaging that will appeal to them. Always keep in mind the importance of testing the frequency and type of message your audience is interested in. Remember such testing is incredibly easy and affordable via mobile. Finally don’t forget you have numerous audiences within our constituencies. If your messages are meaningful you will develop mobile into a trusted and highly responsive communication channel with supporters.

Poll: Start with easy polling tools available to measure interest, gather opinions, and free flowing suggestions/ideas from your mobile list(s). Opening this new communication channel by seeking advice, opinion and ideas is a great way to establish trust while refining your mobile communication strategy. 

Rich Media: More than 85 percent of new handsets are Web enabled. Texting isn’t just 140 characters anymore. Add a link to a video of your nonprofit delivering services to those in need, messages from staff in the field updating supporters, the CEO making a specific call to action for volunteers, or a message expressing heartfelt gratitude from those who benefit most from the generosity of your donors. Adding video links to your text messages adds valuable stickiness.

Mobile Nudge: Nonprofits are finding that sending a text message increases response rates to more traditional communication methods. Nonprofits have seen a valuable “lift” in response rates to direct mail, email, event and volunteer invitations and telephone appeals for year-end gifts when a text message is sent as a follow up to reinforce your latest appeal(s).

Micro Mobile Donations: This is great for securing micro donations of $5 and $10 via a simple, easily understood “call to action” followed by a thank you and invitation to join your mobile list. Doing so will enable you to also offer to send a gift receipt — which will require them to provide their name, physical or email address. This is great data for continued cultivation and securing additional gifts from your Text to Give donors.

Macro Mobile Donations Of Any Size: Most do not realize the advantages of text pledging that secures a donor commitment of any size through SMS messaging that is fulfilled through credit card. Many nonprofits are using this tool at special events and dinners to much success. The data collected is great. If the donor is willing to share, it can be captured.

Mobile Web: If you knew that 40 percent of your constituency is conducting most of their Web browsing via their mobile device, how differently would you approach your Web presence? Do you have a mobile friendly Web site? Are you anticipating or responding to this fact?

Online donations will be moving to mobile for obvious reasons, so dollar amount and data gathering will be greatly enhanced and subsequent or recurring donations can be easily confirmed and processed.

Strategy: It isn’t complicated but you need to think through your objectives for mobile and keep in mind that integration with your other communication channels is important. Your initial objective should be to build a mobile list, regardless of size, so that you can begin testing for receptivity to message content and frequency.

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About Doug Plank, CEO of MobileCause in Calabasas, Calif. His email is doug@mobilecause.com