Mobile opportunity – micro-donations? large donations? other?

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Last week, for the second year now, International Medical Corps used mobile to raise significant 
additional funds at their annual dinner. The additional $85,000, came not only from people who had already given, but also from people who often don’t convert to donors – the guests of table-buyers. There are two important lessons here. First, with thoughtful preparation and good storytelling mobile can be an effective tool for bringing in large donations and raising significant dollars.  

The second – and the more powerful lesson – is that often the buzz about a technology can be distracting noise that keeps us from the real opportunities, the real potential. And sometimes, as is the case with this example, the opportunity is really low-hanging-fruit. Let’s take these in reverse order. Mobile came on the radar for most nonprofits in a big way after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Huge amounts were raised. Lots of new donors gave $5 and $10. A wave of nonprofits signed up for text2give services – micro-donations that donors pay on their phone bill. 

This was a pivotal moment because mobile was already important to nonprofit constituents but most nonprofits weren’t paying attention. After text giving to Haiti mobile was on the radar but not for the right reason. The media and buzz, understandably, focused on this new, easy way for people to give. Manna from heaven. Lost in the frenzy were critical facts about a rare alignment of circumstances – the nature of the disaster and need, 24/7 media coming out of the country (related to proximity and media’s ability to camp out there), new technology and – of course – Presidents, First Ladies, etc AL asking people to text. How does this relate to most of us? It doesn’t. That doesn’t mean there’s not an opportunity. There is. But the hype and buzz was a distraction we had to ignore to see with clarity. And sometimes the opportunity is not what we want it to be. Sometimes it’s better. 

First I want to add that text 2 give fundraising will grow up quickly (increasing amounts, monthly giving, ways of getting contact info beyond cell number, ability to message after the confirmation, etc.) and I’m an advocate of organizations that qualify jumping in and learning now given the low cost.But let’s take off our nonprofit leader hats for a moment (I’ll take off my Healthy Child Healthy World board hat) and think like a human with a cell phone. What’s the first thing we’d want causes to do with mobile? Enable drive-by micro-donations from strangers? OK maybe that’s in the top ten for some groups. But how about:

  • Urgent updates on issues (truly urgent updates)
  • Delivering program
  • Crowd sourcing research 
  • Real-time shopping guides (seafood watch from Monterrey Bay Aquarium, toy safety below)
  • Get Out the Vote (GOTV)
  • Community building
  • Board and staff fundraising tools and support
  • Large donor fundraising at events
  • Building networks, access and influence
  • Etc.

Here’s an example. For 25 years U.S. PIRG and the state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) have produced their annual toy safety report. These are unsafe toys they find on the shelves of stores. They get amazing coverage across the nation. Parents see the report on TV… then stand in the aisle trying to remember what not to buy (the reports and media attention have forced these products off shelves and saved lives).

Two years ago they added a mobile site and now parents can not only access the information when they need it – at the toy store – but they can report unsafe toys… from the app. The Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission also has a database of recalled products which we can access from anywhere – like a garage sale. As always with new technology nonprofits need to pause and take the time to think strategically about opportunities. What are our priorities? Who are our audiences? Are they using this technology? How? What are our assets (e.g. existing programs)? Do we have hidden assets? What’s the biggest opportunity here? 

Back to International Medical Corps. Last year they raised about $47,000 above the $25,000
challenge donation. There were 82 donations averaging $577. Of the 82 contributions 35 were new donors with an average gift of $255. The fulfilment rate (International Medical Corps staff did the calls to fulfil the pledges) was about 97%. The feedback across the board was positive. We don’t have the fulfilment numbers for last week’s dinner yet but $85,000 was pledged including $25,000 from Research In Motion to kick things off (RIM was honoured for Blackberry’s contribution to saving lives in Haiti).Preparation and powerful storytelling were both key.

We’ll take a deeper dive on all these topics in the near future – large donor text-pledge fundraising, mobile opportunities beyond fundraising and sorting through the noise around new technologies to find the biggest opportunities for your organization. This was on our minds because of last week’s dinner success and we wanted to share. Congratulations to International Medical Corps for a wonderful evening.