Mobile Giving: Meet James Eberhard

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Are donations via text messaging the future of fund raising? James Eberhard thinks so. After all the company he founded, mGive, helped the Red Cross raise more than $40 million for Haiti’s earthquake recovery efforts via a text campaign.1

How does a text campaign, or “mobile giving,” work? In essence people donate funds via their cell phone by sending a text message to a specific number (provided by mGive). Their pledge then appears on their next cell phone bill. In the case of Haiti, all people had to do was text the word HAITI to the number 90999 to make a $10 donation. Several million people then did so—raising over $40 million. Simple.

Eberhard, who has been named “Fundraising Professional of the Year” by FundRaising Success magazine, helps nonprofits, universities and private foundations develop mobile content for fund raising purposes. His company has managed to bring cell phone companies on board while agreeing to pass 100 percent of the donations to nonprofits. This was a tremendous victory as cell phone companies usually claim up to 50% of donations to cover billing costs.

Many organizations are starting to take advantage of mobile giving, including United Way, the ASPCA, Feed the Children, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Keep a Child Alive. A remarkable success story comes from Keep a Child Alive, an organization that raised $450,000 in just three minutes3. I have to agree with Eberhard when he says “you can put a Salvation Army bucket outside a grocery store and hope to collect some spare change, but what if you put that bucket in front of everybody in the United States?” There is definitely a huge untapped fund raising resource in America’s 290 million mobile phones.

Even if your nonprofit is not yet ready to launch a national mobile (text) campaign, you should begin to familiarize yourself with the potential of mobile giving. There are 290 million cell phones users in the United States alone (and growing). People like the convenience of donating through their cell phones as it is easy, fast and secure. Think about it. It takes less than a minute to donate money by text message. Donors don’t have to visit a particular website to fill out personal or financial forms to make a small donation. All they have to do is send a short text code—usually a five or six-digit number or word. mGive then manages everything from sending confirmation text messages to tax receipts to aggregating the carrier’s payments. And, best of all, mGive’s transaction fee is similar to that of a credit card transaction fee. Tamara Strauss, from the Standford Social Innovation Review, calculates that mGive charges 70 cents for a $10 donation.2

Eberhard’s organization has made text donations the preferred way to give money for millions of people—especially young donors. According to Pew Research Center, mobile technology has opened the door to philanthropy to a new generation of donors, who want giving to be quick and easy. Mobile technology could help level the playing field for smaller nonprofits as access to potential new donors becomes less of a barrier. Rather than looking for that one person who can write a $50,000 check, an organization can tap into a younger demographic of 5,000 people who text a $10 contribution.

Jessie Newburn, a consultant on social media, says the Millennial Generation is an excellent target for mobile giving “[b]ecause they carry their cell phones all the time….They check their email only occasionally, but they check their cell phones every couple of minutes. Mobile giving is therefore very relevant to this group.” According to a recent article published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, millenials are drawn to social causes. They feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world and they want to give back.

As Peggy Dyer, Chief Marketing Officer of the American Red Cross, said, “the success of the fundraising campaign, particularly its ability to engage younger, first time donors, represented a tipping point in establishing broad awareness of the benefits of mobile technology for social good.”

Combine the power of social media with the ease of mobile giving

A recent study from Ruder Finn revealed that social networking sites are becoming more popular on mobile technology than on desktops.4 If this is the case, combining mobile giving campaigns with social media tools can potentially generate substantial results. Your fund raising campaign can spread at lightening speeds through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook while simultaneously allowing immediate action—only one text away.

The mobile platform for social good is here to stay. Mobile text donations are proving to be a powerful tool for nonprofits. Mobile giving is a simple solution for raising contributions and building awareness and community. And yes, small organizations can successfully make use of mobile giving too.

1.- How mGive Is Making Donations Mobile
2.-Five-Digit Giving: How texting became young donors’ preferred way to make charitable donations
3.- How mGive Used Texting to Raise $40 Million for Haiti
4.- Social Networking Now More Popular on Mobile than Desktop

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