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February/March 2014: IT Apps

Written by Julie Howell
February/March 2014

IT options

There has been a year-on-year increase in donations via IT Apps. But, finds Julie Howell, charities can still take more advantage of new App opportunities


“CHARITIES NEED to engage in mobile now. There is no point waiting.”

So says Paul de Gregorio, whose company Open Fundraising helps many UK charities (including Christian Aid, Shelter, RSPCA) to dip their toes into the unknown waters of mobile fundraising. If you are in search of big numbers look no further: “We’ve recruited well over 80,000 supporters who give a regular gift to charities via their mobile phone. Between them they have donated over £1.5m to 23 charities”, says de Gregorio. “This is a real innovation and it’s set to grow.”

Mobile fundraising has been subject to a number of false dawns over the past fifteen years. While it may always have been obvious that mobile phones would eventually revolutionise voluntary giving in one way or another, the sector has had to wait patiently for consumer confidence in mobile as a viable transactional platform to reach its tipping point.

UK mobile payments regulator PhonepayPlus recently conducted a market map that suggests that mobile donations via SMS will reach £150m by 2015, with estimates of £32m in 2011 and £66m in 2012.

Mobile as the norm
Unsurprisingly, charities are at different stages with mobile. Despite there being
no obvious barriers to entry, and with more mobile handsets in circulation than
people living in the UK, it’s easier to find examples of pioneering practice from
larger charities, with many smaller NGOs yet to discover what mobile might do for them.

Sam Booth, commercial director, at digital agency Reading Room, whose clients include Teenage Cancer Trust and Terrence Higgins Trust, says: “Voluntary organisations which optimise their websites for mobile are experiencing increases in donations. Mobile is now one of the prime factors we consider as it helps increase the virility of social campaigns.”

Software and services company Advanced NFP lists ‘mobile as the norm’ in first place in its 2014 technology predictions for the not-for-profit sector. According to
Advanced NFP’s Simon Fowler: “The need for websites to be fully optimised for
mobiles is now a pre-requisite.”

But mobile isn’t simply web-over-thephone. With iPhone, Apple transformed the mobile phone into a completely new kind of communications device. Google and Microsoft developed their own mobile platforms and now almost anyone who could want it carries around with them the kind of processing power that even Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates said would never be necessary or desirable. When it comes to technology, even the most celebrated pioneers occasionally think too small.

Thinking small is rarely an accusation levelled at the voluntary sector, where a constant and urgent need to generate voluntary income in an increasingly crowded and competitive market drives innovation. However, knowing where and exactly when to invest in mobile when the technology moves on at such a rapid rate can be difficult. For even the smallest charities whose budget barely stretched to cover the most basic website news that all they need to do is to ‘mobileenable’ the website they already have must be welcome.

The arrival of tablets to the consumer market (Apple’s iPad leading the charge) blurred the lines between mobile and web. So much so that it seems slightly churlish to make a distinction between the two. Consumers are abandoning desk-top computers and lap tops entirely in favour of a single device that has all the functionality of a powerful web enabled home computer plus portability, Wi-Fi, a high quality digital camera and the ability to send texts and make phone calls. What are charities operating in this climate to do?

Tools & tactics
Continued investment in web fundraising applications wouldn’t seem to be a bad idea. In December 2013, Raising IT reported a year-on-year increase in online donations of 88 per cent, the average online donation in 2013 standing at £28 per individual. Tom Latchford, Raising IT’s founder, says: “Due to ever-developing online giving tools and tactics we have seen a noticeable uplift in the amount being donated online. The most effective campaigns can often stem from simple, cost efficient social media activities.”

According to mobile operator Three, donations through websites, social media and Apps now account for £26 in every £100 donated in the UK, with £2.4billion being donation online and by mobile each year.

In its report Beyond the Bucket: charitable giving in the mobile age, Three assuages the popular misconception that mobile is only used by a restricted age demographic: “Younger generations are more likely to donate via mobile (24 per cent v 16 per cent)… yet 97 per cent of people say technology isn’t a barrier when it comes to fundraising.”

The report finds that 91 per cent of people know they can support charities through their phones, one in three having shared charity-related content. To truly exploit the platform’s potential, charities should cease thinking of mobile as just another way to view a website. SMS alone offers a considerable opportunity for generating voluntary income.

In its State of the Not-for-Profit Industry report, software and services provider Blackbaud finds that 49 per cent of the 600 charities it surveyed now use text-giving, with more than 80 per cent of respondents now using social media to communicate with supporters, primarily via Facebook (87 per cent) and Twitter (84 per cent).

Blackbaud’s European director of strategy and innovation, Martin Campbell, says: “Using social media to update supporters is great, but not-for-profits need to figure out how best to use it to build the long-term relationships that are so important to future mission success.”

Some charities are exploiting mobile to an even greater extent, taking full advantage of the new opportunities that the platform as created to both fundraise and inspire. One of these is Friends of the Earth (FoE), whose ‘The Bee Cause’ campaign made extensive use of mobile.

Working with mobile strategists Open Fundraising, FoE took a cautious ‘test it-and-see’ approach to media placement by purchasing ad space in a variety of OOH (out-of-home) locations. FoE’s supporter recruitment manager, Sandra Wild explains: “We chose a campaign that would lend itself well to a text-messaging ask, that is: the description, goals and calls-to-action of the campaign had to be easily understood from a poster.”

The cross-channel campaign (comprising SMS and Facebook ads as well as the more traditional posters and inserts), took the form of a £3 cash ask (incentivised with free packets of seeds to create bee-friendly spaces) followed-up by conversion calling. The goal: to create a scalable, ‘low value ask/high value response’ campaign with conversion to regular giving. “We sited posters that featured a text shortcode at various test locations, including shopping centres, underground stations, on trains and in motorway service stations”, says Wild.

For this particular campaign, trains proved to be a most effective location, reaching 150 per cent of the cash donations target, a result that surprised and delighted Wild and her team. “Not every location we tried hit the target. You have to try different locations and refine your approach until you find out which sites result in the best response.”

Power of mobile
While face-to-face fundraising remains the main source of FoE’s voluntary income, Wild believes that mobile will continue to open up new opportunities. “Mobile Apps don’t replace wellestablished channels. It’s just another way to attract support. By monitoring supporter journeys and observing how supporters respond to different communications we’re getting braver at testing technology in different ways.”

JustGiving, the online platform for charity-giving, has been monitoring both the increasing power of mobile fundraising and its impact on the growth of social networking. For example, four out of five UK users access Facebook from a mobile or tablet (further proof that the desktop will soon be dead). One of the areas where mobile seems to be making the greatest impact is ‘shares’ (users click-to-share a piece of content with their friends). In particular, post-donation shares result in a further donation 21 per cent of the time.

Another not-for-profit that has pioneered a more innovative use of SMS is Save the Children, who first used the technology in 2009 for its Enough is Enough Gaza Ceasefire campaign. However, it was in 2011, that the organisation began to realise how mobile could support other media as part of an integrated fundraising campaign.

Alex Bono, individual giving digital manager at Save the Children, explains: “We worked with ITV on a TV programme: Born to Shine. The mass audience we had access to during the programme meant we needed a quick and easy response mechanism for donations. This is when we started to understand the true potential for text messaging as a response mechanism for a fundraising appeal.”

Bono agrees that the key to successful and effective use of mobile is in testing and refining the campaign strategy. “For our SMS cash programme we look at response rates and unsubscribes for outbound messages, much like we do in email. We then use SMS as a response channel for other marketing (outdoor, press, TV, etc).

“We focus on the number of leads we receive, the conversion rate to regular giving on the phones and the attrition rate once donors convert. With our Regular Giving via SMS programme we use the attrition rate as the key metric.”

Scale & technology
If your charity has neither the resources nor the ‘courage’ required for the testit-and-see approach, an award-winning partnership between telecommunications company Vodafone (more specifically the Vodafone Foundation) and JustGiving has resulted in JustTextGiving, a platform for ‘spontaneous’ donations where 100 per cent of the money raised is donated to the nominated charity.

In just over two years, 20,000 charities and 115,000 individual fundraisers have incorporated text donations into their fundraising efforts with JustTextGiving. Launched in May 2011, the aim was to open a new market for spontaneous donations from new donors, mass participation events (that is, marathons) being the most effective.

Vodafone’s head of giving something back, Clare Jones-Leake, attributes the platform’s success to its ability to provide the much-needed ‘scale, technology and infrastructure’ to charities of all sizes. “JustTextGiving provides a unique shortcode that runners can wear on the back of their shirt”, Jones-Leake explains. “Anyone with a mobile on any network can easily text a donation to the unique shortcode. We attribute the success of JustTextGiving to making it quick, easy and spontaneous for mobile phone users to make donations on the spur of the moment as well as appealing to younger donors.”

With The Resource Alliance’s virtual Fundraising Online conference preparing to host a number of debates on the subject, impressive ROI, lost cost of entry (testing is inexpensive and shortcodes and keywords can be rented for one or two hundred pounds) and services like JustTextGiving doing most of the hard work for you why shouldn’t you make 2014 the year of mobile fundraising in your organisation?

There must be some drawbacks. “The real issues are old ones”, explains Open Fundraising’s de Gregorio. “What is your charity’s case for support? Why should someone give to you and what happens next? Those questions won’t be answered by mobile but including mobile in your mix will help you to maximise response.”

Julie Howell is an IT consultant



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