How many nonprofit development professionals have had this experience? You’re gearing up for a new fundraising campaign. And your executive director or a board member insists: We have to have text to give for this campaign! 

You do your research on text to give. Unfortunately, the information out there is conflicting. (And either coming from companies who want to sell you their text to give services or companies who want you to use their software without text to give.) You want to make sure you have all the information before signing up for a service that provides text to give. But, when you try to weigh the pros and cons, it’s hard to sort out the truth from the sales pitches.

text to give

So, in this post, Mightycause is going to break down all the myths about text to give, wade through the pros and cons and fact and falsehoods, to help you make the best decision for your nonprofit.

What is text to give?

Text to give is a method of fundraising that asks people to support a cause by texting a phrase or amount (example: “GIVE”) to a number (usually what’s called a “shortcode,” such as 98765.) Sending the text makes a donation (often in a pre-set amount, such as $10), which is added to the user’s phone bill that month. Text to give works by making donating simple for those who wish to support a cause, and by soliciting a large number of small donations.

Myth: Text to give is something that can work for nonprofits of any size.

Small nonprofits often look to bigger nonprofits to find new fundraising techniques to try. What works for them should also work for your nonprofit, right?

The American Red Cross has used text to give to tremendous effect. They raised half a billion dollars for earthquake relief in Haiti in 2010. A huge part of that success was their text to give campaign. They raised $32 million with just their text to give efforts. By texting HAITI to a shortcode, the public could donate $10 to the Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts. (Though that campaign was not without controversy.) The Red Cross’ campaign for Haiti was a landmark in nonprofit fundraising. It’s is often looked to as an example of how vital text to give is for nonprofits.

Reality: Text to give can be difficult for small and mid-size nonprofits to pull off.

Let’s take a look at what tools The Red Cross used to make their Haiti campaign such an astonishing success:

  • A large-scale natural disaster that had the attention of the world and was a lead story in the national news
  • Television and radio ads
  • Celebrity spokespeople, including former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
  • Millions and millions of supporters
  • Worldwide brand recognition
  • A multimillion dollar operating budget
  • A large staff of dedicated fundraisers and technology experts

How many of these things does your nonprofit have? Many large nonprofits might find their resources lacking, compared to The Red Cross. And, make no mistake, each of those bullet points was very important to the success of the Haiti campaign.

Text to give campaigns can be expensive to set up. Purchasing a shortcode can cost as much as $3,000. The software typically comes with a monthly subscription cost, which can be hundreds of dollars per year, and it can be tricky to set up. In order to run a successful text to give campaign, your donation volume needs to exceed your costs. For a titan like The Red Cross, this is not an issue. For a smaller, community-based nonprofit, this is a risky gamble.

You’ll also want to consider your reach. In a text to give campaign, people are giving in smaller, static amounts so you’ll need to make up the difference with sheer donation volume. Again, for The Red Cross, this is no big deal. For a nonprofit with, say, 2,000 donors in its database, this is much harder — especially when you’re just running a regular fundraising campaign, instead of providing aid in an emergency situation where people are actively looking for a quick, simple way to help.

Myth: Text to give is a great way to fundraise year-round and for every campaign.

When you’re looking into text to give functionality, it’s because it seems like a great, modern way to build excitement for a fundraising campaign that makes donating as easy as sending a text message.

Reality: Text to give is very effective for disaster response fundraising; it has not proven effective for other types of campaigns.

If you look at all of the text to give platforms out there, and ask to learn more about their most successful campaigns, you will notice a theme. Most of them are disaster response campaigns, like the ones orchestrated by The Red Cross.

That’s because this type of giving is best for campaigns where a nonprofit needs a quick, immediate response, such as a natural disaster. It has not been proven effective for other types of campaigns. So, think twice before making it a priority to add it to your next charity walk or end-of-year fundraiser. Donor dollars and staff time are best spent utilizing fundraising techniques that are proven to work for the type of campaign you want to run, such as peer-to-peer fundraising.

Mightycause Mythbusters: Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Myth: Text to give is a great add-on to existing donation options.

Most nonprofits want the donation experience to be as simple and hassle-free as possible for donors. So, they look into adding text to give as another option for giving, in addition to in-kind donations, online donations and check or cash donations. It’s just one more convenient way for supporters to contribute, right?

Reality: Text to give is a cumbersome, costly add-on to an existing donation options.

We discussed the set-up cost involved in text to give campaigns above. It can cost up to $3,000 to purchase a shortcode, plus subscription costs for the software (which can vary but are at least a few hundred dollars per year, billed either monthly or annually). And that doesn’t include the maintenance costs, staff time to keep up with it, and continual processing costs.

This fundraising method works best as a basket you put all of your eggs into, not as an add-on.

This is because of the cost of set-up and upkeep needs to be exceeded by the donations your nonprofit takes in through that channel. So, for instance, if you pay $500 annually for a fundraising platform but raise upwards of $20,000 in a campaign you run on that platform, you’re in good shape. If it costs you $5,000 annually to add the option of text to give, and donors are restricted to a small, static donation amount, it’s going to be hard to recoup the expense of implementing it in the first place.

Myth: Text to give can help you grow your donor base.

This fundraising strategy is a numbers game: the goal is to get as many donations as possible. So, it stands to reason that making it so easy to donate would help you increase your donor base.

Reality: It’s hard to follow up with donors because of the way text to give campaigns are structured, and they do not help with donor acquisition.

How these campaigns typically work is that donors make donations via text message, and that amount is added to their monthly phone bill, then distributed to your nonprofit through a third party processor. You are not capturing email addresses and mailing addresses and all of the information nonprofits typically need to effectively follow up with donors. Because the donating is done through third parties, you have little access to donor data, and little control over it.

It’s also a good rule of thumb to never count on getting more donations than you typically would with any other campaign. So, if your typical fundraising campaign sees 800 donors on average, you will probably see somewhere around that amount for a text to give campaign. You won’t exceed the size of your current donor base, unless like The Red Cross, you have access to lots of advertising and celebrity endorsements and are responding to a big disaster that has lots of people’s attention.

Myth: Text to give is essential for getting younger people to donate to charity.

Text to give ticks all the Millennial boxes. It’s quick and easy, it’s done from a phone, and gives donors instant gratification of knowing they helped a cause. It’s essential to add it to your fundraising toolkit if you want to nail down the coveted Millennial demographic.

group of young multiracial people texting

Reality: Mobile giving is essential.

It’s absolutely true that mobile giving is important. Millennials may be more likely to use their smartphones as their primary mode of accessing the internet and communicating, but a large portion of almost every demographic conducts everyday business (including charitable giving) from their smartphones. So, to that end, having a mobile-friendly donation form or website is important.

But text to give is not necessary to implement mobile giving. It’s a different method of fundraising altogether. You can achieve the same effect (allowing people to quickly and easily donate from smartphones) without implementing text to give.

Myth: There is text to give software that doesn’t require purchasing a shortcode, allows donors to give in different amounts, and captures all their data.

There are fundraising platforms out there that have text to give as an option, that don’t require the upfront cost of a shortcode, don’t lock donors in to a specific amount, and will make sure you have access to the donor’s name, email, and address so you can follow up as you would with any donor.

Reality: There are some important details missing from that information.

You know what they say: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And that is true of fundraising platforms that promise text to give functionality without any of the strings usually attached to it, like fixed donation amounts, inability to capture all the data you want, and the cost of purchasing a shortcode. Here’s how their “text to give” feature works in practice:

  • A donor texts a code to a number
  • They receive a text with a link to a donation form
  • The donor must fill out and submit the donation form to complete their donation

That is not text to give. That is simply directing supporters to your donation form via text message. And, in trying to make donating easier for your supporters, you’ve added several steps to the donation process, making donating harder. You could have easily achieved the same result (donors filling out an online donation form) by sending an email, posting on social media, or any of the other methods you typically use to solicit donations, utilizing tools you already have.

It’s important to understand the donor experience when talking to platforms about text to give. That’s because, in many cases, it overcomplicates the experience for donors and is not true text to give but a convoluted workaround that allows platforms to market themselves as offering “text to give.” Be wary, do your homework, and ask for details about the donor experience. True text to give allows donors to make a complete donation just by texting a shortcode and does not require filling out a donation form.

Mobile Giving on Mightycause

Mightycause does not offer text to give. This is because it can be costly, complicated and often difficult for small and mid-size nonprofits to utilize successfully. (Don’t get us wrong, though — many nonprofits can and do make text to give a lucrative part of their fundraising plan.)

Our platform is fully mobile-responsive, which means that donors are able to make donations to your Mightycause page using their smartphones. Which, at the end of the day, is what most nonprofits are really after when they want to implement “text to give.”


Leave a Reply