Salvation Army takes five dollars by text message instead of pocket change

Short on change as you walk by the red kettle and bell ringer?  The Salvation Army is testing mobile donations in Atlanta this year. Text “TSA” to 90999 to initiate a premium SMS charge of $5 (i.e., added to your phone bill).

“We are not the most progressive movement in the world, we change very slowly. With the regular use of debit and credit cards, many shoppers are short on loose change or cash in-hand. We want to afford anyone and everyone who desires to make a donation, a user friendly and convenient means to do so.” Says Major James Seiler, Metro Atlanta area commander of The Salvation Army, Atlanta, Georgia, in Mobile Marketer.

Mobile Marketer doesn’t mention the revenue share percentages for this particular program, but a dirty secret of the industry is that as much as 60% of premium SMS transactions are held back by mobile carriers and platform providers. Until recently, this was even for most text-to-give donations.

I checked with a friend at Mobile Accord, and now this drops to 5% rev share held back (min $.25), so the Salvation Army actually nets $4.75 per donation, minus the cost of setting up and running the program. They have a hundred NPOs signed up for text-to-give.

I don’t know about you, but the sound of those ringing bells is enough to keep me away from a mall. What do I have to text to turn down the volume?

The best way to raise money: Don't Ask

Commenting on non-profits doing desperate fundraising during the economic crisis, Seth Godin writes that Now is not the time to ask for money.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been thinking along these lines over the last year, since I took a step back from working with several large national non-profits.

So much has been done to optimize development through the sciences of direct mail and web / email metrics and analytics… and yet something basic seems to be missed in all this.

As they learned in physics, the act of observation effects the outcome. Continue reading

How to pull together a Social Media Telethon in 24 hours or less

My friend Adam Jackson found out Friday he’d lost touch with his best friend a couple of weeks ago because she’d been hospitalized in another city. She’s now in touch with friends and family, but still in the hospital, and facing another crisis that has to be resolved immediately. Mashable explains the urgency with which she needs financial help.

Right now, Sunday morning, I’m watching a live video telethon with hundreds of other viewers. Adam pulled this together yesterday in an emergency to not only help his friend but to make a larger contribution to the community. He’s been “on air” overnight.

Adam has been running a live video telethon all weekend on as well as reaching out through other bloggers, on Twitter and elsewhere to get the word out.

They’re asking everyone who can to find ways to spread the word in hopes that this will go viral. It’s all still unfolding as the word spreads and people find more creative ways to help.

The chat room in Ustream is active with viewers who started contributing by building a wiki to act as a hub for all the information and efforts, a widget for contributions, offering non-cash donations of services, discounts and goods to be offered as premiums or auctioned on EBay, and more. Continue reading

Mobile Charity: The $10k SuperBowl Ad

No, they didn’t pay $10k for a SuperBowl ad.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the United Way Superbowl spot asking users to text “fit” to UNITED (864833) raised about $10,000. Of each $5 donation, United Way got about $4.50. By my math, that’s 2,000 $5 donations from a single 10-second spot viewed by nearly 100 million (second most-watched TV show ever).

Could they have done better with what they had?

pSMS (premium SMS) allows interaction with a user which adds small charges to a cell phone bill, typically under $10. In the US, it had been limited to selling mobile content and dominated by ringtones.

According to the carrier rules, you couldn’t make a pSMS charge to deliver a real-world good a service, or to accept a donation to charity.

The rules also have mobile carriers and aggregators keeping a large percentages of the charges as revenue share. Varying from carrier to carrier and negotiated by volume, etc., you might get back only 60% of revenues, and this still requires you to do all the work of programming the service, promoting it, etc. This is as if the credit card companies charged 40% instead of low single-digits for processing charges through merchant accounts, but don’t get me started.

Until recently, the only exception to both rules had been donations to the Red Cross during disasters. Slowly more exceptions are being made, and here’s a little more detail.

I know how mobile works in detail (having run many pSMS programs) and I had questions when I viewed the spot during the game. I didn’t know enough about what I was being asked to do, how it would work, how much it would cost me (“$5” was buried in small print at the end), what the privacy impact would be (would I be solicited for more donations?), and what the benefit would be.

Even remembering the instructions might have been challenging (how many Budwiesers had the viewer consumed at this point in the game?). Why not run the instructions at the bottom of the screen through the whole spot:

Help United Way Reduce Childhood Obesity, give $5 through your cell bill.
Text “fit” to 864833. It’s easy, no hidden charges, no calls.

Did they test this ad by serving chips and beer in a living room and showing it? When doing something fairly new, a little insight goes a long way, and since you’re not after absolutely objective data, a fancy research firm with expensive scientific validation isn’t necessary. Cheap and informal work does great here. Ask folks what they thought about it and watch them while they try to do it on their phones after you answer their questions.

Anyway, since I try every shortcode program I run across, I made one of those 2,000 donations back in February. I wonder if nearly all 2,000 were from mobile industry folks. Here’s what the program looks like on my phone (four text messages):

Me: fit
864833: “To confirm your $5 donation to United Way youth fitness reply with the word YES. For more info visit: Other charges may apply.
Me: yes
864833: Thanks for your $5 donation to United Way. Donate up to 5 times by sending FIT to 86433. Encourage others to donate. Info reply HELP, Other charges may apply.

They don’t ask for permission to text the user later. Otherwise they might follow up to see if they are interested in volunteer opportunities, tell them about outcomes with the donation they made, ask them to take action in support of some legislation, or let them know about other causes or ways to donate. Would some who gave $5 want to contribute much more if they’d been further engaged?

Also, TV is only one way to promote these mobile donations. How would they do with print? Outdoor? Or with calling for people to take out their phones at events?

The Mobile Giving Foundation
is pushing to move this kind of program from rare exception to common practice.

The carriers win when everyone understands pSMS better and sees it as applying to more than ringtones. Allowing mobile philanthropy meets that goal and creates good will, so I hope progress will be made to quickly allow many more non-profits to experiment with mobile donations. For their part, I hope non-profits work to develop and share insights from listeing to and observing those in their target audience so that any hurdles to mobile adoption are most effectively understood and overcome.

ADDED 12:45pm: Mobile Active included many more details about the Mobile Giving Foundation and vendors used in implementing the United Way program.

Facebook Mobile: Causes, SMS and Blackberry

A few quick notes from CTIA (the wireless industry conference this week):

CTIA CEO Steve Largent announced that they’re re-activating Text2Give for the SoCal fires: text GIVE to 2HELP to donate $5 to the RedCross, shows up on your phone bill.

Facebook CTO and Co-Founder Markovitz, this morning’s keynote (yesterday was Steve Ballmer):

  • New mobile features let app’s automatically work with mobile and to add new mobile keywords for SMS
  • They love the ‘Causes’ app and used it as an example for both the above.
  • ages 35+ is the fastest growing demographic for Facebook (which is similar to SMS — these are not just ways to reach youth)
  • RIM CEO joined to announce and demo the new Blackberry native Facebook app. Uses push so you have content when offline (set custom tones for Facebook notifications), fully integrates with photos and address book to allow things like tagging and uploading to Facebook automatically when you take a pic. Again, Facebook and mobile are not just for younger demographics, RIM investing here (and 2000 RIM employees are on Facebook)

ASPCA Mobile

I subscribe to as many non-profit mobile programs as I can find (send me yours). I work with NARAL Pro-Choice America on Txt4Choice, but also helped launch The Humane Society’s mobile program, so I’m particularly interested in the messaging from ASCPA mobile. I have to say, I just don’t get it. I mean, I understand why some people would want a weekly dog or cat tip to their phone (though I’d love to find out how many subscribers there are and to hear from recipients what they think of the messaging), but I really didn’t understand their receent legislative alert:

Protect primates and people. Please visit and urge your legislators to support the Captive Primate Safety Act.

This is the only SMS legislative alert I’ve had from them, and it asks me to go online. The website doesn’t seem to be at all mobile friendly (though I’m viewing from an iPhone, so perhaps they’re detecting browser and serving pages accordingly) and asks me to send an email. For goodness sake, why not help me call my legislator? Or let me submit an SMS that is forwarded to my legislator? It seems much more likely that folks on the hill can make use of short sweet text messages actually written by constituents than long boring form letters that are repeated by the thousands.

What do you think?