Nonprofit Best Practices: Text donations for Haiti provide powerful testimonial to new media

    Nonprofits have long known ease of transaction was important to potential donors. But despite a wariness of relief fundraising scams, especially those electronically driven that surfaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, $22 million in text pledges has been reported by Red Cross for Haitian earthquake relief as of Jan. 19.

    Simply texting “Haiti” to 90999 authorized a $10 contribution to the American Red Cross added to your mobile phone bill, pretty much regardless of telecom carrier. No need to provide any credit card information or account information. The response is immediate and you even have the opportunity to get Twitter updates from the Red Cross that theoretically will keep you informed of how your money is spent to help the Haitians recover from this tragedy.

    This campaign is notable for more than the unprecedented use of text-to-pay technology. It illustrates how effective the text donation campaign is in meeting our need for relevance, engagement, communication and trust, all key elements in any donor relationship. It may also prove notable for reaching the hard-to-engage 18-34 demographic. Although no stats are yet available on who donated via texting, Jaimee Minney from comScore explains that overall the most responsive and important demographic group using mobile devices is males age 18-34, followed by women in the same age range. It’s not a quantum leap of logic then to assume this group was highly responsive to the texting campaign.

    According to Diane Mermigas, a contributing editor and columnist at Mediapost, The Hollywood Reporter, BNET and Crain Communications, “The grassroots use of connected mobile devices and social networks to raise contributions for Haiti required little organized prodding. Millions of dollars had been committed by text days before the movement garnered national attention.”

    This was initially a word-of-mouth viral campaign and its success emphasizes how important and effective our personal relationships are in influencing our opinions and decisions. Not a new thought by any means, but one that bares repeating as nonprofits ineffectively swarm social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to market their organization or cause. Social media enthusiasts are keenly aware of any and all attempts by organizations or outsiders to penetrate their personal networks and see those attempts as disingenuous. 

    The lesson is simple: Heart trumps technology, which is still just a way to both tell your story and allow people to respond.

    Cathi Mohan, founder of Brand on the Run, is a nonprofit consultant specializing in providing an integrated approach to resource development and marketing communications strategies that deliver to brand goals. She can be reached at

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