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Mobile giving: Community fundraising, engagement opportunities

by: Amy Gahran |

Cell phones are inherently engaging devices, and fundraising is a high priority for most community news and engagement projects. These forces can combine to make mobile giving part of your overall strategy for community engagement -- by literally getting buy-in on local coverage.

In October, at the annual conference of Philanthropy Southwest, I gave a presentation on mobile engagement as part of a KDMC workshop for a group of executives and staff from foundations with a community or regional focus. These organizations are regularly involved with fundraising campaigns and donor engagement activities, which community news outlets may do less regularly. However, the local engagement benefits of mobile giving can build support and community ties -- even for local news venues which are for-profit businesses (as well as for nonprofits, obviously).

The key here is turning the connection made through a donation into an ongoing conversation -- a springboard for a variety of opportunities for people to interact with and support local news or information ventures. Fundraising involves an exchange of contact information, not just money.

When looking at mobile giving, specifically, the kind of contact information shared (and how you can use it) depends on the type of fundraising tool being used. Here are some basics about mobile giving options, and how community news and engagement projects might be able to leverage them:

Crowdfunding. This can be done by any organization or individual, for any kind of project, through a variety of platforms. Currently, Beacon Reader is a leading platform for crowdfunding local journalism projects. (See more KDMC stories involving Beacon Reader -- including last week's story on InvestigateWest, for an example of nonprofit news using this platform.)

Most crowdfunding platforms offer very mobile-friendly apps and websites, as well as tools for social media and e-mail engagement. If you experiment with crowdfunding, examine the rules of your chosen platform to understand whether it's acceptable to use the contact information shared by donors through the platform to support other types of engagement.

Generally, if you see a donor or supporter sharing information about your crowdfunding campaign via social media, it's acceptable to friend or follow their account -- but be cautious about spamming their social media. Better to engage in individual conversation for a bit (such as thanking them personally for their support, or asking their opinion on a local matter), and then asking if they'd like to hear about what your organization is doing or other opportunities to support your work.

With e-mail addresses, more caution is warranted. Some crowdfunding platforms don't reveal supporter e-mail addresses, but some do. Here also, it's important to not automatically add crowdfunding supporters to your e-mail lists. It's fine to offer this option, but definitely always get permission. Consent is essential for effective engagement.

The philanthropic consortium Hispanics in Philanthropy recently opted to build their own crowdfunding platform, HIPGive to support projects and organizations which benefit Latino communities. This is a mobile-friendly website (not an app) that allows campaigns to integrate many types of engagement channels. If your organization serves a significantly Latino community, or if you're covering issues of special import to local Latinos, you might want to consider using HIPGive for crowdfunding.

Text-to-give.This option typically is available only to nonprofit organizations, so not all community news/info projects can use it. Text-to-give is when people can text a keyword (such as "Nepal") to a shortcode (a special five-digit phone number) in order to make a donation of a fixed amount to a nonprofit organization or charitable cause (such as $5 for Nepal earthquake relief). This donation then appears on the donor's next cell phone bill.

Text-to-give services are offered by MobileCause, Mgive, Text2Give, and other platforms. They handle the technology, manage interactions with donors, and keep campaigns on the right side of the law. (The U.S. CAN-SPAM act provides pretty stiff penalties for sending mass solicitations to cell phone numbers without explicit consent.)

From the donor's perspective, text-to-give is the easiest and simplest mobile giving option. It's fast, and the donor don't have to enter any personal information (though the platform does, obviously, record their cell phone number to complete the transaction). Also, it works for any cell phone (not just smartphones).

From an engagement perspective, however, text-to-give has some significant tradeoffs. First off, it only works for donors with individual cell phone plans, not corporate or family plans. And it usually only works for people whose cell phone plans are directly with wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc.), not discount resellers (Cricket, VirginMobile, etc.) Also, when donations are successful, only one piece of donor contact information (the cell phone number) is gathered via text-to-give -- and you may have few or no legal options to use that in ways to continue a conversation.

Therefore, it's important to build in potential engagement with the confirmation message that gets sent to confirm a text donation. Ask donors if they'd like to learn more about your project, or mention something about the community that might interest them, and offer a web link to a mobile-friendly webpage. There, you can ask for more contact information (such as an e-mail address) so that you can keep them informed -- just make sure that this engagement is indeed valuable from theirperspective.

Mobile donations. This is a hybrid approach that involves both interactive text messaging and the mobile web. MobileCause offers this service. It can be leveraged by both nonprofit and for-profit organizations -- but if for-profit, you need to be clear that these donations are not tax deductible.

The initial engagement process for mobile donations works like text-to-give: A donor hears a call to action, and responds by texting a keyword to a shortcode. But instead of this generating a charge on their cell phone bill, it triggers a response text message that includes a web link to a mobile-friendly landing page. Here, they have to do a little typing to fill out a short form -- hopefully not too much typing, since typing on a cell phone is notoriously tedious and error prone.

On this web form, you can collect information that can help further engagement: especially, a name and e-mail address. The downside is that users have to type in their credit card number, which can be a functional obstacle. But choosing a platform that supports options such as PayPal, Google Wallet or ApplePay can alleviate this problem somewhat.

You can include on your donation form a checkbox where donors authorize you to contact them with updates, or to ask for their input on important local issues. This is a legal, consent-based way to build your e-mail list. And when displaying the mobile web page confirming the donation (and in the e-mail receipt), you can offer your social media information and invite people to follow you or to encourage their friends to support your organization or project.

Getting started. If you're interested in exploring the engagement potential (as well as the revenue potential) of mobile giving, the best way to start is to start making mobile donations via all three mobile giving channels.

Browse crowdfunding sites and respond to text-to-give campaigns (some of which you'll discover will be hybrid text/web mobile donations). Examine how the interactions work, and whether/how those organizations attempt to engage you further -- and how well you like that process. Do they make it easy for you to engage with them, or to tell others about them? For the price of a few small donations, you can obtain a wealth of useful knowledge.

Then, experiment with the type of campaign that seems most relevant -- funding a reporting project, a beat, general support for your organization, whatever seems most likely to work with your community. Plan for extending engagement with donors right from the start. What can you do with confirmation messages to obtain interest and consent for ongoing engagement? Keep you initial explorations small-scale and short-term, and measure results -- including what seems to work best in terms of engaging your community via mobile giving.

Amy Gahran

Amy Gahran is a journalist, editor, trainer, entrepreneur, strategist, and media consultant based in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to writing
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