State-of-the-Art Giving

Tamar Snyder writing in The Jewish Week:

Mobile phone giving has hit a tipping point, says Lucy Bernholz, a longtime adviser to philanthropic foundations who is also a well-respected blogger and analyst of philanthropic trends. Among Jewish organizations, the American Jewish World Service and the JDC are among the first to try their hands at mobile giving campaigns, while the UJA-Federation of New York has launched the Chai Society, which enables recent college graduates to donate $18 a month to the UJA by texting the word “Chai” to 58126.

The question is how successful these campaigns are and whether other Jewish organizations, especially those not involved in disaster relief and recovery efforts, will jump on the bandwagon, as well.

… Currently, only 500 of the more than one million U.S. nonprofits are running text-to-donate campaigns, but [Douglas] Plank [CEO of Mobile Cause] envisions a large increase in the coming year. “The heightened awareness of mobile giving has caused nonprofits that support Haiti and those that don’t to realize that this is a viable fundraising tool that they need to start using,” he says.

One of the barriers to launching a mobile giving campaign is the assumption that it’s more difficult to use than it is. “With just a few clicks, you can initiate your campaign,” says Plank. “They’re often unaware of how easy it is from the perspective of the nonprofit.”

… For the JDC, establishing a mobile giving campaign is part of an effort to attract young donors and show that a “95-year-old very established organization is getting out there and working with new technology,” [Sarah] Eisenman [JDC’s director of next generation and service initiative] says. “We’re adapting to how people live and how they communicate and opening up as many entry points as possible,” she says. “That can only be a positive.”

… Still, there are downsides to mobile giving campaigns, including the fear that potential donors will ease their conscience with a quick $10 text donation and not bother to give a larger gift.

That presents a dilemma to organizations like the AJWS, where the average online gift is between $100 and $115. While the organization is experimenting with a text-to-donate campaign to benefit the Haiti relief efforts (text “AJWS” to 25383), it has opted not to publicize its texting number on its Web site. “If we encouraged people to text, it’s $10. If they’re already on the donate page, why would we shoot ourselves in the foot?” says Riva Silverman, AJWS’s director of development. The point of the mobile giving campaign, she says, is to get to people who otherwise wouldn’t go to your Web site to donate.

The Haiti earthquake has indicated that more and more donors are heading online to donate. During the tsunami, half of the gifts came in online and half came “the old-fashioned way,” says Silverman. “And people were really nervous about giving more than $1,000 online.” Fast forward to present day. The organization has raised more than $5 million for the Haiti relief effort, and three quarters of donations came through the AJWS Web site. In addition, online gifts included a number of $2,500; $5,000 and even $10,000 donations. “It really shows how things have shifted,” she says.

… For the past three years, the UJA’s “Generosity” event for Jewish philanthropists in their 20s and 30s has featured donor pledge technology that enables attendees to text their pledges from their cell phones, along with messages honoring the honorees, which are then broadcast on multiple screens around the room.

“Our research has shown that younger people tend to think that we’re their grandparents’ charity,” says Michelle Waranach, director of Emerging Leaders and Philanthropists at the UJA. “This sends the message that we’re cutting edge and technologically savvy.” The text-to-pledge technology has replaced traditional pledge cards, which is an added plus for the environmentally conscious. Of the 600 people who attended Generosity in January, more than one-third contributed via text-to-pledge, in addition to the $180 ticket price. The amounts ranged from $10 to $6,500, and contributed to 40 percent of gross profits, according to the UJA.

The UJA requires attendees to list their cell phone numbers when they sign up for Generosity, which is crucial for tracking and following up on pledges. A major concern with mobile giving is the difficulty of tracking donors and establishing long-term relationships with them. “We see disaster gifts as entry points to the AJWS,” says Silverman. “We’ll send an e-mail thanking donors for coming to us to give to Haiti and share what we did in Haiti  – and then, let us tell you all about the rest of our work. You can’t do that with texting.”

“Online giving was the new technology for the tsunami, and clearly texting has become the new technology for this disaster,” Silverman says. Still, it hasn’t taken off for AJWS like it has for the Red Cross. “We don’t have Michelle Obama getting on TV every night telling Americans what number to text.”

excerpted from Will Mobile Giving Take Off In The Jewish World?; posted with permission