Mobile fundraising is not a magic bullet

May 13 2017 - Mark Phillips

As quickly as mobile fundraising took off in the UK, so it soon fell into decline.

But for a few years, every charity seemed keen to have their own mobile campaign. Open a newspaper, switch on the TV, walk down the street or climb aboard a train and you’d be confronted by ad after ad asking for £2 or £3.

On just one train journey as I wandered from carriage to carriage,  I counted close to one hundred adverts from more than a dozen different charities all asking for the same type of low-level donation.

It was a crazy time. And it wasn’t sustainable. A great many charities invested very large sums in the technique but few generated the returns they hoped for. And as a result, few are still using it in the same way and none at the same level of spend.

The primary approach – based on a donor texting in a small gift which was followed up with a telephone call asking for a monthly donation – seems all in the past now in the UK. But at the same time it appears to be catching on in overseas markets. And I’ve been asked on more than one occasion for my opinion on mobile by charities in North America and Australia who are interested in trying it.

So I thought it might be worth sharing this synopsis of a Bluefrog qualitative research study from 2013. It was undertaken at a time of high interest in mobile fundraising in the UK and identified a number of the problems that soon beset the sector.

I don’t think even the most ardent proponent of mobile fundraising would argue that mistakes weren’t made as the approach was rolled out by a host of different charities. So hopefully the findings will be useful in helping organisations, who know very little about the technique, avoid many of the problems that occurred in the UK.

It’s not particularly long so please read the whole report, but here are three key takeaways that anyone considering mobile should take into account when developing a campaign…

Mobile fundraising offers a means to give – not a reason

One of the big problems in the UK was that many fundraisers saw mobile donors as different to traditional supporters. So, rather than offering a compelling reason to engage with a charity, the ads simply asked for a very low value gift and made the whole process very easy.

This generated high levels of initial response, but low levels of loyalty. So rather than make giving easy, your focus has to be on making it rewarding.

Mobile fundraising failed to keep its promise to be different

The technique excited people at the outset as it offered a means of control and a route to receive regular reports on how money was used. But donors soon became irritated with the follow up telephone calls and the monthly texts offering the chance to ‘skip’ a gift. Donors even reported ignoring feedback because it failed to interest or engage.

If you have great content, you must use it. If you don’t, perhaps integrated mobile campaigns might not be for you.

Mobile fundraising didn’t take into account differing levels of connection to a cause

The goal in the UK was to obtain a telephone number rather than recruit a committed supporter. So as well as asking for low-value gifts, some charities used text as a means for potential supporters to order free booklets on an issue instead. This generated high response rates but meant that those who had a real interest in giving to a cause were often missed. As experienced fundraisers for medical charities know, donors aren’t often found within lists of people newly diagnosed with an illness.

Mobile is obviously here to stay. Used intelligently, it can be a great way for a donor to respond to an appeal. But any fundraiser testing the method should start slowly and roll-out carefully. Above all, a strong case for support that functions within the mobile platform has to be central to any successful mobile specific campaign. Simply asking for yet another low-value gift is just not enough. Without offering a compelling reason to give regularly, you may well simply be generating large numbers of people who might donate once or twice before moving on to a charity that understands their needs much better than you do.

The report can be downloaded here.