Does Text Giving Work When Disasters Don’t Strike?

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I have a love-hate relationship with SMS (short message service or text) and its fundraising counterpart text giving. I love SMS because it’s simple and everyone knows how to use it.

Text giving can be a fundraising superstar. Some nonprofits have raised tens of millions of dollars with text-to-give programs, particularly after disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and the Haiti and Japan earthquakes.

What I hate about text giving is that when you take out the money raised after disasters, there’s not much left to talk about.

So what’s the verdict on text giving? Will your nonprofit be LOLing all the way to the bank or texting WTH? Let’s dial 411 for information.


First, let’s start with the limitations of text-giving. Blogger Geoff Livingston did a good job highlighting these in 2010. Much of what he wrote is true three years later. You can check out his post for the details, but here are the major points.

  1. Text giving isn’t cheap. The cost really makes you think twice. Most people should opt-out.
  2. Text giving requires a partner. Nonprofits can’t do it themselves. They have to involve a third-party vendor.
  3. Text giving donations are capped at $10. People will generally give you what you ask them to give you. With text your biggest ask is just ten bucks. Bummer!
  4. Text giving isn’t the best option. You can use text to push people all sorts of messages and links, and never ask users for a dime. You get all the benefits of text and its immediacy without the expense and hassle.
  5. Text giving isn’t the only option. It’s getting easier every day to donate via mobile devices. uses QR Codes and your Paypal account. Levelup lets you donate your loyalty credits when you use their mobile payment service. Nonprofits such as the Salvation Army have used Square during their red kettle campaigns. Mobile giving doesn’t just mean text giving (far from it).


Still, text giving can be powerful for two reasons. First, just about everyone knows how to text. That can’t be said of QR Codes, Levelup, and Square. Second, people read their texts almost immediately after receiving them. That’s worth something in a world that’s attention-challenged.

So what’s the best way for nonprofits to use text giving? Let’s call the operators–the people who have had success with text giving for non-disasters.

Tevolution, an iced tea beverage from Purpose Beverages, uses text to give back to good causes when customers input the codes found on every bottle. They also skirt the expense and hassle of text giving by using text to register the users wish to give. Because the money comes from the company, they don’t have to work with a third-party vendor to collect and process the dollars from consumers.

Global Poverty Project uses text giving at its popular concerts in New York’s Central Park. A captive audience and rock star appeals are a potent combination for text giving. You may not have Neil Young making the ask as Global Poverty Project did, but if you have a captive audience and a pitch from a local celebrity, it just may work.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes teamed up with a an outdoor media company to tell a powerful story of need that could be relieved by making a donation via text. The I am Here campaign in Austin, TX raised enough money to get a homeless couple–who were living underneath the billboard–into a home. Was it an earthquake? No. Did it shake people up? You bet.

That may be the greatest lesson of text giving. It’s just a tool, just a hammer. If you give people the right nail, they’ll hit send.

Do you have other successful example of text giving that didn’t involve a disaster? Share them in the comments below.

Joe Waters blogs at