Upwardly Mobile: Has Mobile Fundraising Reached its Potential?

By Oisin Lunny, Senior Market Development Manager, OpenMarket for Fundraising Magazine

Helen Calder, acting head of fundraising, DEC: It’s a more instant donation method which has opened
up a whole new route to a whole new audience. We’re still concerned about any cannibalisation – obviously a mobile donation is a lot smaller donation than an online donation, and there are questions about how we can continue the conversation with donors. We are relatively new to it, but it seems to be working for us.

Danielle Atkinson, head of digital and individual giving, Merlin: It’s got great potential. Some charities are making it work well; I do think it’s not working quite so well as it could, but I don’t think that’s mobile. I think that’s charities not using it properly and not being clever enough in how they market. Certainly for Merlin it works as part of a fundraising appeal with other mechanisms, but when we’ve tried mobile on its own it hasn’t worked as well.

Ruth Ruderham, head of fundraising, Canal & River Trust: It’s a bit like when everyone tells you a certain book or film is amazing and you go and see it and you’re disappointed. Mobile’s fine probably, but it’s so hyped that it can’t fail but to underperform.

Oisin Lunny, senior market development manager, OpenMarket: It’s relatively early days for charities. Mobile technology has been around for over 20 years, and but it’s only now that we are really seeing global enterprises embracing SMS. There is plenty of room for charities to learn from other industries.

Helen, you’ve recently run the DEC Syria appeal which brought in a large proportion of donations through mobile.

Helen: We’ve used mobile in two ways; we built a mobile donation platform, and that brought in roughly about 20 per cent of our individual giving so we opened up another platform, with Paypal. I think one in four people donated through Paypal, and of that a decent percentage was via a mobile. We also used text response for the first time on our BBC appeal which got about 25,000 responses. We just need to do a bit more analysis to understand who the donors are; whether we’re cannibalising our old audience. The winning formula has to be using a mobile donation platform which means people can donate from their mobile at a significant level.

Danielle: Our most successful use of mobile is in combination with street fundraising. It’s basically a text
donation of £1 to £5 on the street, but then converting via telephone to regular giving. And where we’ve not seen it working so well is when we’ve used it in isolation. We sent out an outbound text for our Syria appeal and it failed miserably. It was the first time we had done it. I can’t even say “Hi Danielle” because you’ve only got x amount of characters. But I do think it does have huge potential certainly in emergencies and with acquisition.

Ruth: When you’re in a disaster situation text will probably work quite well. It’s so instant which is great,
but it’s almost zero commitment. We’re much more an engagement charity than emergency charity.
For me it’s not just a way of getting a donation. After a mini-emergency appeal we did a text broadcast saying we’ve now fully funded this appeal and we’re going to start work. We did another text broadcast a few months later letting supporters know about the grand opening. We got huge amounts of positive feedback. Text for us was such a really good way of us instantly and briefly telling people something. But in terms of driving donations, even for that emergency appeal it was a small part.

Has mobile then been underused for engagement?

Helen: We’re just working out our customer journey so we can move them on to a higher gift or just give
them more information about the appeal. Because it’s such an immediate response, donors are not taking that long to consider who they are donating to or why, so we’re trying to give them more
information. But it’s more expensive than email or Facebook – that’s something we have to consider.

Oisin: Comparing email to SMS is interesting. I’ve got a Gmail account with over 60,000 unread emails.
Yet 95 per cent of text messages are opened in a few minutes. If someone is donating to your charity, as long as it’s in the terms and conditions on your website, you can reach back out to them within the next six months and ask them to support again.

Ruth: It’s way too big on acquisition, that’s why you’re seeing some things like the train lines in and out of London restricting the amount of charity adverts. And I worry that we jump on this bandwagon so much that we kill it – a bit like we almost killed face-to-face. Do people who are giving via text differ from your typical donors?

Helen: Our East Africa and Pakistan appeals brought on a whole new audience. It was a younger, less
affluent audience, but that could also have been influenced by where we placed those SMS codes.

Danielle: The donors that do convert to regular giving tend to fit into our regular giver profile: young, cash-rich type. Text is just a really easy way to do something. The only time I would ever give to Comic Relief is when I watch a TV advert. It makes me cry, so I give £5. I don’t want to give any more.

Ruth: It’s a throwaway gift almost. Charities are viewing it as the start of a journey but the donor may be
seeing it as a way of getting out of jail, watching the telethon and not having to actually phone up and
speak to an operative who will try and talk you up.

Oisin: The anonymity appeals to some people, though, as does the ability to give without setting up a direct debit. It helps address the people who wouldn’t go near direct debits.

Danielle: I do think there is something about a donation coming out of your phone bill, it doesn’t feel like real money – which is a good thing.

Helen: I think as long as you make your communication interesting you should be able to then start some sort of relationship. But the time it takes for the actual donation to get to us is irritating.
Do you think the sector has the right attitude towards mobile?

Helen: We’re a bit guilty of pushing old methods onto something new. We need to look at it with a completely fresh pair of eyes. It’s not going to go away so we need to make it work.

Ruth: I think it could be huge but I’m such an optimist. If you could find a strong proposition and it’s the right channel, then yes I think it’s got massive potential.

Helen: I think it’s at quite an exciting stage so we’re going to keep in contact with people who have donated to the Syria appeal and then when the next appeal comes along probably look to test with a text donation, but also to drive them to the website. What three things are critical to a successful mobile fundraising campaign?

Danielle: I think it has to be – certainly for Merlin at the moment – tied in with another channel. I don’t think people would just give via mobile without something else that will prompt them, and for us that is street fundraising.

Helen: It needs to be easy to use. It’s got to be relevant to donors; if they’ve donated by mobile you’ve
got to be aware of that and not try to fit them in with the old tried and tested ways.

Danielle: You’re right. We, rightly so, get hooked on engagement and relationships and I think with
certain ways of giving maybe we just have to accept that they just want to give and remain anonymous.

Oisin: Mobile is interactive in the way that a direct debit isn’t. One of the advantages of direct debit is that people tend to set it up and then forget about it. The next generation of people that are going to be supporting charities value that interaction. And they like getting rich content as well.

Danielle: You have to accept that mobile is a way of life. If you haven’t got a mobile optimized website, get one.