The Text Effect

In the nearly two weeks since the Haiti earthquake — text message donations have dramatically changed the way people think about and respond to charitable giving. More than 25 million dollars has been raised so far from millions of people adding a ten-dollar text to their cell phone bills. Laurie Johnson takes a look at how the Haiti situation could change the future of fundraising.

Cell phone users have made the Haiti relief effort the most successful mobile giving campaign in history.

Four or five years ago, the idea of raising literally millions of dollars via text message would have been ludicrous.

Now, Michael Nilsen with the Association of Fundraising Professionals calls texting a quantum leap in fundraising.

“Giving via text message was around, still in its infancy but certainly had been around and been used a little bit. But now all of a sudden it has become the way. And we’ve really seen it just take off tremendously.”

It makes sense considering cell phones go everywhere with us.

AT&T Spokesperson Sarah Andreani says text messaging has outpaced cell phone calls as the most popular form of
mobile communication.

“In the third quarter of 2009, 120 billion text messages crossed AT&T’s wireless network. And then a year prior, in the third quarter of 2008, it was only 64 billion. So in just the course of the last year, the use of text messages on our network has nearly doubled.”

You heard correctly: 120 billion text messages sent in three months. And that’s just on one wireless network.

It’s hard to ignore the power of that many texts flying around. Dory Cayten is the deputy director of development at the Houston Red Cross. She says they’ve been overwhelmed by the response and this will change the way they think about raising money in the future, especially among young people.

“We do see that most of our donors are older; however, the younger generation are the ones that we can reach through social media. So yes, it is a great time to capture their interest and have them come on board and become donors — you know, long-term donors.”

But that could be the biggest challenge with text donors. Michael Nilsen says organizations have to figure out how to
turn spur of the moment impulse donors into long-term supporters.

“What the technology is doing — it’s allowing charities the opportunity, but it’s not really making community. And I think that’s really what charities are trying to do, is trying to create a group of supporters and advocates. So what this does is it gives us an opportunity to introduce ourselves, to get people involved. But the challenge is up to the charities then to keep that going.”

Nilsen says this is an opportunity for non-profits to tap into the charitable power of Generation X and the subsequent
generation, often called the Millennials. And those groups don’t just want to make a contribution, they want to make a difference.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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