The earthquake that rocked Haiti in January inspired an unparalleled level of anonymous philanthropy. One of the most successful fundraising strategies to emerge from the earthquake was the Red Cross text-to-give campaign. While this strategy was utilized modestly during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, text-to-give raised more than $30 million for Haiti — mostly by $10 donations, in just two weeks.
What a difference 5 years makes. The fact that more people carry cell phones now is an obvious reason for the increase in fundraising potential. But I believe it is more than that. People are now more connected to the world than ever before through their mobile device -- with web browsing, news alerts, Twitter, RSS feeds, and other social media.
There is another dimension. Cell phone donations are a way of remaining detached from reoccurring fundraising drives. It’s a one-time commitment, appealing to those who don’t want to spend the next six months trying to unsubscribe to mailing lists or being hassled by telephone for continued support. The anonymous nature of these donations allows individuals to feel like they’ve chosen to give when they donate via cell phone as opposed to being coerced into it.
For example, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul is famous for an online fundraising blitz known as the “money bomb”. This summer during a huge rally at Kentucky’s annual Fancy Farm picnic, Paul missed an opportunity to take it one step further. He could have announced the money bomb, told the crowd to text to donate, and ran short radio ads with the same message for people to listen to when they are stuck in traffic on the way home. Not only do people forget, but they also lose enthusiasm. The instantaneous donation via SMS eliminates both of these issues.
Unfortunately, Federal Election Commission rules did not allow such donations via SMS, thus Paul’s campaign could not use this valuable fundraising tool. However, it is likely that the FEC will change these laws in the future.
Paul, a unique candidate with national notoriety, has done very well with internet donations because much of his support comes from out of state. As social media continues to flourish, and the FEC lightens legal restrictions, embracing text-to-give messages for rallies and ads will capture donations where traditional and even online means fall short.