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Red Cross reaffirms faith in mobile fundraising

NEW YORK -- Consumers donated an estimated $500,000 last year through their mobile phones and almost 40 percent of those funds went to the American Red Cross.

A partnership with wireless carriers can help nonprofit organizations maintain and even increase their donation levels in these tough times, according to a panel moderated by Mobile Marketer's Mickey Alam Khan during the Direct Marketing Association's 2009 NY Nonprofit Conference Session Program at the Waldorf=Astoria. Charities and nonprofits can alert their donor base to this new channel and get mobile opt-in consent for its supporters to donate via their handsets.

"The Text 2Help program born out of a desire reach a broader base and get new supporters using SMS as a tool for donor acquisition," said Jana Waterworth-McAndrew, manager of direct-response online fundraising and analytics at the American Red Cross, Washington. "We wanted to give people a channel for their compassion.

"In response to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, we wanted to create a quick and easy way for people to make donations, which we've implemented during large-scale disasters," she said. "Mobile donors are a much younger support base, and they're typically looking for a quick, easy, noncommittal way to support a nonprofit organization.

"Sending a text message takes two seconds, and younger supporters usually are not going to respond to email or direct mail solicitation."

The American Red Cross partnered with the Wireless Foundation for the Text 2Help program.

The call-to-action was simple: "Text keyword GIVE to short code 24357 (2HELP) to donate $5.00 to the American Red Cross."

Those who texted in received the following message: "To confirm your $5.00 donation to Red Cross Distaster Relief Fund reply w/ the word YES."

That charge goes on donors' mobile phone bill and the carriers then distribute the funds to the charity.

A few of the carriers texted their subscribers asking them to donate and a print ad ran in the Wall Street Journal.

President Obama's team sent a message to their subscribers asking the base to text give. An SMS call-to-action was issued during the Republican National Convention as well.

The American Red Cross also partnered with the NFL last year, which promoted the Text 2Help program in stadiums and on the air during Fox and CBS broadcasts.

"We're reaching millions of people by partnering with the NFL -- it's a large audience to reach," Ms. Waterworth-McAndrew said.

Disney's Demi Lovato filmed a YouTube video promoting Text 2Help, and she also mentions the program and urges fans to text in to donate at every tour stop.

Text 2Help raised $120,000 for Hurricane Katrina victims out of a total of $2.1 billion.

The American Red Cross raised $190,000 via SMS for 2008 storms out of a total of $86 million.

Some challenges include a carrier-imposed cap of $5 per donation, although there are discussions to increase that limit to $10. Consumers can text in a maximum of five times for a total of $25.

Also, while charities do get the entire $5, there is a delay of 30-plus days before they see a return.

Still, the American Red Cross is happy with the results it has seen from its mobile giving initiatives, and plans to expand upon Text 2Help.

That includes building an opted-in database of donors for remarketing.

"The expansion of our mobile initiatives is a priority," Ms. Waterworth-McAndrew said. "We want to see how it will work with our blood drives, texting people asking them to donate blood.

"We're working with Wireless Foundation and the Mobile Giving Foundation to take that next step," she said. "Our general social media strategy has expanded, and now we are investing in mobile and seeing where our mobile strategy may take us.

"We are in the initial phases of developing a holistic organization-wide strategy that not only encompasses fundraising, but also using mobile to support the Red Cross Mission in other ways."

VeriSign Messaging and Mobile Media, through a partnership with the Wireless Foundation, powers the American Red Cross's mobile application, the mobile messaging transactions and delivery of the program.

"We helped the American Red Cross launch their Text2 Help program," said Ocean Fine, senior director of mobile messaging client management and strategy at VeriSign. "Mobile giving -- getting people to respond to a call-to-action using text messaging to encourage them to donate -- exploded last year.

"We found that the mobile channel outpaced the funds they were able to raise online, and we think that's only going to grow," she said. "Donors don't have to be tethered to a computer or fill out a form, and it's very easy for them to donate whenever they see your call-to-action, no matter where they are."

The most important factor is the marketing and advertising to promote these programs, according to VeriSign.

"People won't participate if they don't know how," Ms. Fine said. "The mobile channel is an interesting channel because it's so intimate.

"You have to make sure it's something very meaningful, reaching people with something they want to participate in and take action," she said. "You want people to pay attention every time you send someone a message, so it's important not to flood their inbox."

By the end of 2009, 92 percent of the entire U.S. population will have a mobile phone, according to a study cited by common short code registry Neustar.

"There hasn't been anything out there in history that has the reach of SMS," said Matthew Valleskey, head of marketing for mobile services at Neustar, Sterling, VA. "The great thing about using an SMS common short code program is that it's not stand-alone.

"Just as you probably put your Web site URL on everything that goes out the door, from email, print and out-of-home to TV, radio and direct mail, put the short code call-to-action on everything you do," he said. "It makes collateral and advertising interactive, because people can take action right then and there wherever they see your ad.

"SMS is a fantastic direct-response mechanism. When you incorporate a mobile call-to-action in the right way, you can get 10, 20, even 30 percent response rates and higher, which is unheard of in direct-response programs, so make sure you're integrating it with your traditional marketing activities."

Here are some pictures from the DMA event: