I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about the explosion in donations by text messaging since the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
Here are my latest thoughts:
1. Gavin Clabaugh, one of the smartest folks I know about this stuff, made a very insightful comment on my post the other day about Haiti signifying the tipping point for fundraising via social media. His comment was that text messaging is not a social media tool since it doesn’t creates opportunities for many-to-many conversations unless using a special app, like Twitter. So, what he says what we have been seeing is pretty traditional fundraising with text really as “a billing system, not social media.” Point well, taken. It’s funny, I had just reflexively lumped text messaging into my social media toolkit because it’s digital, cheap and ubiquitous. But, I think Gavin is right, without the facility of many-to-many conversations it doesn’t reach the threshold, unlike email.
2. Katya has a brilliant post up about the quick drop off of donations to Haiti. It speaks to another problem with text giving, which is the way that the donation comes to the organization. It is a circuitous route with a cell phone carrier in the middle — and that can’t possibly be good. As I mentioned in my earlier post this week, giving by text is a pledge not a direct donation. On top of that, as reported by the Chronicle here unless the donor opts in to provide their cell phone number, an organization has a lag in the giving and perhaps just a check from the carrier, leaving them with no way to connect with donors beyond that initial engagement.
3. Jenna Sauber of the UN Foundation shared with me this Make-A-Wish web page with an opt-in option for folks to sign up for alerts by text as a way for organizations to begin to build relationships with folks who want to communicate mainly by text.
So, where does this all leave me on text giving? Trepidatious. It’s certainly not a panacea, and may be best used as part of an immediate crisis or disaster responses – exactly as the Red Cross has done. However, it may not be as useful when the initial crisis begins to wane. In part, because most of the donors will opt-out so organizations will have no way to contact them and also because, sadly, I think it will be too tempting for organizations to misuse cell phones numbers and become spammers. It seems to me that relationship building with a first engagement being a cell phone number is going to be inherently difficult. I hope I’m wrong, would love others to disagree!