As mobile giving explodes, charities from Human Rights Campaign to Mothers Against Drunk Driving are courting young people this holiday season by asking them to make fast, anonymous donations through cell phones. Brian Ries shows how easy it is.
There was a moment in January of 2010, in the dark days following the devastating earthquake that had toppled the buildings of Haiti, when it seemed everyone and their Facebook friends were giving $5 or $10 donations by text messaging “HAITI” or “YELE” to a five-digit shortcode on their mobile phones.
Around $43 million-$45 million of the total funds raised to help the country rebuild came via mobile phone donations, as nearly 40 different campaigns took advantage of a new technology where anyone could send money by billing their gift directly to their wireless bill to charity. It was being called “mobile giving,” and as devastating at it was, the Haitian earthquake served as a coming-out party for the fledgling industry.
The force powering this sudden influx in charitable donations was provided by companies like the Mobile Giving Foundation, a Seattle-based organization that enables a layer of technology between charities and our mobile phone providers, helping people give donations to the charities of their choosing. They handle all the messy contracts, too.
Led by CEO and Chairman Jim Manis, the MGF began with a soft roll-out throughout 2008 and 2009 with a little over 200 test campaigns, raising just over $3 million by the end of last year. Nearing the end of 2010, Manis tells me, funds raised for charity over mobile phones has now surpassed $50 million in the U.S. and Canada, with another £14 million ($21.8 million) raised in the U.K.
2010’s been a breakout year for mobile giving across the board. But it wasn’t just Haiti that benefited from the new way to raise dollars for charity; other campaigns, such as Idols Give Back, a charity by American Idol, and the Gulf efforts by the National Wildlife Federation have also seen significant increased participation.
That general awareness has perhaps led to the biggest unseen effect that Haiti had on mobile giving: the consumer-response rates. They’ve grown threefold when comparing pre-Haiti to post-Haiti, meaning more people are answering “Yes,” to the query asking, “Are you sure you wish to donate?”—many with differing reasons for giving.
“You think of text as skewing to a younger demographic—which is true,” Manis explained in a phone call Tuesday afternoon. “But yet 53 percent of all people over 35 use text and they use mobile giving for different reasons. You get the immediacy effect that skews higher to a younger demographic and for an older demographic you see that privacy comes into play,” he says.
“People like to make a gift and be anonymous, and a $10 gift enables them to do that.”
Ryan Finkbiner, a Coloradan who, with his wife, donated "anywhere from 20 to 100s [of] dollars" to Doctors Without Borders, President Clinton's foundation, and the USAF in Afghanistan—all through mobile means. For the Finkbiners, much of the appeal in mobile giving comes in the anonymity it provides.
“People naturally want to find a way to help give, and this is really enabling people using the most ubiquitous technology available to step up and do something small.”
"My wife and I have always wanted to donate money to those in need, and we budget 10 percent of our income to this every year; however, we despise the amount of solicitation of some charities because we want to spread our donation over many causes," he told me via Facebook message.
• Brian Ries: The Holiday Gadget Gift Guide"And it seems that some of the organizations we donated to would spend loads of money asking for more!!!! Very frustrating. So instead we go the mobile, more anonymous route and no one bugs us again! We want to give to people— not feel coerce[d] to do so," he added.
But for those who would like to keep in touch, Manis explained, mobile is the most interactive channel available, making it a great way to engage a donor in a continuing dialogue. This enables charities to update the donor with their campaign’s progress, letting them know how their funds are being used, which in turn provides a sensibility of confidence and transparency between the two parties.
Looking forward, the Mobile Giving Foundation doesn’t forecast projection numbers—it's a dark fact that so much of the money raised comes in the days following major catastrophes—but they do focus on ways to constantly “offer a richer experience to users and charities.”
A major criticism that’s surfaced over mobile charity has been the limited price points—$5 and $10—with critics arguing that this may keep potential donors from giving larger amounts. Manis is aware of that. They’re currently in trials for $20 and $25 points, which are scheduled to run through January 2011. He expects them to go well, meaning higher price points could roll out industrywide by the end of 2011’s first quarter. They’re exploring new billing options, too, outside the realm of direct-to-carrier. And like the rest of the mobile space, both charities and donors are going to begin seeing new functionality, as they move to integrate video, photography, and location.
In the end, Manis thinks what those that enable mobile giving are doing, is really changing the face of philanthropy. “We think that not only are we bringing new dollars into the space for charities, but we’re bringing new faces,” he says. “People naturally want to find a way to help give, and this is really enabling people using the most ubiquitous technology available to step up and do something small.
“When you add a bunch of people doing something small,” Manis concluded, “it adds up to doing something big.
“We think that’s significant.”
And it is. Below, see The Daily Beast’s selected list of charities that you can donate to from your mobile phone. They range from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund to WikiMedia, but this is only a fraction of the list available. To find more, simply visit the Mobile Giving Foundation’s list of current campaign partners, or MGive’s partner page.
Alzheimer's Foundation of America TEXT "AFA" TO "50555" FOR A DONATION OF $10 The Alzheimer's organization is focused on providing "optimal care and services to individuals confronting dementia, and to their caregivers and families—through member organizations dedicated to improving quality of life."
The AmberWatch Foundation TEXT "AMBER" TO "90999" FOR A DONATION OF $10 The AmberWatch Foundation works "to provide educational programs and innovative technologies that proactively and preemptively protect children against abduction, predators and the dangers of the digital world."
American Heart Foundation TEXT "HEART" TO "90999" FOR A DONATION OF $5 The AMF has a single-purpose mission statement that influences everything they do and aim to accomplish: "To build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke."
Armed Forces Foundation TEXT "AFF" TO "50555" FOR A DONATION OF $10 The non-profit aims to provide financial support for the families of fallen service members, providing for anything from living expenses and housing improvements to airline tickets and hotel costs so families can be together.
Children’s Miracle Network TEXT "MIRACLE" TO 85944 FOR A DONATION OF $5 The Children's Miracle Network provides funding for upward of 170 children's hospitals around the world. Affecting 17 million children, dollars enable the network to provide "charitable care, purchase life-saving equipment, and fund research and education programs."
Clinton Bush Haiti Fund: Haiti TEXT "QUAKE" TO 20222 FOR A DONATION OF $10 The former president's fund focuses on getting Haitians back to work through "funding programs that create jobs, teach skills, and assist local businesses."
Defenders of Wildlife TEXT "WOLF" TO "90999" FOR A DONATION OF $5 The Defenders of Wildlife focuses on wildlife conservation by championing the Endangered Species Act.
The Gibson Foundation TEXT "GF" to 50555 FOR A DONATION OF $10The Gibson Foundation works to "advance education, music and the arts, the environment and health and welfare causes," and most recently the group set up camp in Nashville for flood relief.
Habitat for Humanity: Haiti TEXT “HABITAT” TO 25383 FOR A DONATION $10 Habitat's work in Haiti is aimed at the underlying structural causes that resulted in the collapse of so many buildings during the earthquake.
Human Rights Campaign TEXT "HRIGHTS" TO "20222" FOR A DONATION OF $5 A civil-rights organization focused on ending discrimination, the HRC focuses on "advocating for equal rights and benefits in the workplace, ensuring families are treated equally under the law and increasing public support among all Americans through innovative advocacy, education and outreach programs."
The Make-A-Wish Foundation TEXT "WISH" TO "90999" FOR A DONATION OF $5 The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of people with life-threatening medical conditions.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) TEXT "KISS" TO "90999" FOR A DONATION OF $10 MADD's main mission is to "aid the victims of crimes performed by individuals driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to aid the families of such victims and to increase public awareness of the problem of drinking and drugged driving."
The National Geographic Society TEXT "NATGEO" TO "90999" FOR A DONATION OF $5 Nat Geo's Mission Programs fund scientists, researchers, and explorers whose aim is to share geographic knowledge while promoting conservation of the world's resources.
Save Darfur TEXT "DARFUR" TO 40579 FOR A DONATION OF $5 The Save Darfur campaign seeks to bring peace in the western Sudan region by "ending the violence against civilians," "facilitating adequate and unhindered humanitarian aid," "establishing conditions for the safe and voluntary return of displaced people to their homes," "promoting the long-term sustainable development of Darfur," and "holding the perpetrators accountable."
Ubuntu Education Fund TEXT "UBUNTU" TO 20222 FOR A DONATION OF $5 The Ubuntu Education Fund affects 40,000 children in Africa through a community-based strategy that is focused on health and HIV services and building sustainable educational resources for the continent's youth.
UNICEF TEXT "TAP" TO 864233 FOR A DONATION OF $5 UNICEF is in it for the children of the world, advocating for their rights and providing assistance to disaffected children in developing countries.
Wikimedia TEXT "WIKI" TO 25383 FOR A DONATION OF $10 The Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit that operates Wikipedia, most famously, is "dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge." Free content needs charity!
Brian Ries is tech and social media editor at The Daily Beast. He lives in Brooklyn.