Text-messaging comes of age

Robert McAllen
Robert McAllen

Robert McAllen

I’ve watched with interest from the UK on the way that the use of text-messaging, known as SMS, as a fundraising method has changed and matured over the past couple of years in the United States.

It’s been incredible to see how a channel which, just a few short years ago, was considered in the U.S. as a medium for teens to share gossip has moved to being a vehicle to bring in tens of millions of dollars.

I smiled greatly when I read a U.S. article that referred to giving online as “the old-fashioned way!”

In the first 13 days after the Haiti disaster, the American Red Cross brought in an astounding $22 million through text messaging alone.

The fact that U.S. providers have waived their fees is a big step forward in making this a success.

The UK has had some real issues with mobile phone providers and their fees surrounding text messaging.

For example, if someone in the UK was to mount a campaign such as this, they could have found 40 percent to 70 percent of their donations going directly to these providers.

So, other than direct fundraising, how else can this medium be used to directly enhance stewardship and the donor experience?

I’d like to share a few great examples from the UK:

Crisis, a national charity for single homeless people based in London, wanted to get their message across in a new and personalized way.

They decided that SMS was a good channel to pursue.

What they did was sell tickets to concerts by well known artists such as Dave Gilmour from the band Pink Floyd.

The catch was this: You bought the tickets to these small-scale secret gigs, but had no idea where they would take place.

On the day of the concert you would receive a text message with the location, and you had to make your way there.

The idea behind this?

Well, if you are homeless, you have no idea where you are going to even sleep that night, so this was at least an attempt at showing Crisis supporters how that felt…albeit on a much smaller scale.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society in the UK has also used the system to great effect.

They piloted the use of SMS in their organization around stewardship of marathon runners.

Shortly before the London marathon, they sent “good luck” text messages to all of their runners and then after the run they sent “well done” messages.

The feedback they had from the runners was very positive and it gave them a welcome lift before and after what is a very gruelling event.

Another excellent example is from the Anaphylaxis Campaign.

This organization focuses on food allergies and offers website visitors the ability to signup to receive information on allergies.

The nice thing is that when a major retail chain announces that some of their food has been contaminated by nuts or some other allergen, they can quickly send out a potentially life-saving text message that subscribers are much more inclined to read.

(And one that won’t get lost in the detritus of the office email.)

So, as acceptance of the medium ramps up in the U.S., and as adults start to use it more and more, there is so much more potential for SMS other than just fundraising.

How can your organization embrace SMS?

The possibilities are endless.

Robert McAllen is manager of interactive products for Blackbaud Europe.

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