No one I know has thought longer or harder about using SMS (cell phone texting) as a fundraising tool than Donordigital’s Nick Allen. So I immediately sought his permission to publish this email he sent to a progressive list on the subject just yesterday. Bottom line — it’s not soup yet.

While we’re (i.e. Donordigital) launching mobile activist programs for several clients, mobile fundraising doesn’t make sense yet in the U.S., because of both donor habits and technology.

First there is the fact that people just aren’t used to giving via phone —
and they will have to get used to it via regular e-commerce — buying ringtones, movie tickets, subways passes — as they are beginning to in Europe and Asia).

In terms of donation processing, there are several options, but all have major

1. Premium SMS. You donate and the donation is added to your mobile bill. The
problem is that Verizon, Cingular, etc. take almost 40% off the top, which
most of us would find unacceptable to donors as well as to organizations.

2. PayPal Mobile’s Text2Give. This service was launched in April but PayPal
has not pushed signups heavily so there are not many people enrolled in PayPal
Mobile and using it to buy stuff, let alone to donate. However, the fee are
reasonable PayPal-type fees.

3. Calling into an interactive system or to a service bureau. You could ask
people to call into a system where they input their credit card info, or give
it to a telemarketing agent. But users would have to be very motivated.

Mobile fundraising may become important, and could happen sooner with a disaster
where the carriers waive their outrageous fees and promote it heavily. But
not yet.

Nick Allen