How to Run a Text Giving Campaign like the Red Cross

Fundraising by Type

Share this article

Text giving has been a useful tool for more than a decade. The Red Cross was one of its earliest adopters – and one of its most successful. Here are some text fundraising lessons you can learn from the pros.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005, The American Red Cross stepped in to help. To fund their efforts, they set up an enormous text fundraising campaign. It was one of the first of its kind, and it raised $250,000 in mobile donations. A few years later, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. Again, the Red Cross began appeals for text donations. At its peak, the post-earthquake text campaign saw donations pour in from all over the country – at one point, they were processing $500,000 an hour in text-based donations.

Your organization might not ever process $500,000 in an hour (although that would be super great!), but there are definitely some fundraising lessons to be learned from The American Red Cross!

Text fundraising pro tip: create a sense of urgency

We hope you never have to set up emergency fundraising after a natural disaster or other catastrophe. But the sense of urgency that follows any disaster is part of what has made so many Red Cross campaigns successful.

You don’t have to wait until after a catastrophe to impart a sense of urgency in your appeals. When setting up the basis for your campaign, don’t think only about why donors should give. Instead, think about why donors should give right now. What will happen if they don’t donate right now? What will happen if they do? Why are the funds so necessary?

The ease of donating via text is part of what makes a text fundraising campaign successful. But it’s also what makes it easy for donors to put off making a gift. Making your appeals urgent will help prevent donors from putting off (and forgetting) to make a gift.

Text giving pro tip: make it visible

The American Red Cross desperately needed funding for their efforts in Haiti after the earthquake. To get the money they needed, they decided to make their fundraiser as visible as possible, and partnered with the NFL to make appeals.

You might not be able to plug your campaign during NFL games, but the takeaway is that visibility for your campaign will boost donations.

How can you make your campaign more visible? Options will vary from nonprofit to nonprofit, but some basic guidelines are:

  • Partner with local businesses to spread the word (especially if their mission aligns with yours)
  • Include your keyword and short code in printed materials (think direct mail, newspaper ads, fliers, billboards, local TV or radio stations, etc)
  • Ask existing donors, other nonprofits, or volunteers to share your keyword and short code with their friends, families, and social networks.
  • Share your short code and key word at events

One drawback of text fundraising is that it can be hard to let people know it’s an option. Many people know they can go to your website and donate. You can’t say the same for text fundraising! If you want people to donate immediately, let them know how they can donate immediately.

Make it easy and make it shareable

The Red Cross ran traditional text-to-give campaigns; a donor texted a keyword and was billed $10 extra for each text. That money went to the charity. Today, text fundraising has evolved to be a little more flexible.

Text fundraising today generally involves two methods.

There’s text-to-give, which is what the Red Cross used in past campaigns. Donors texted a keyword to a shortened phone number, and a donation was added to their phone bill. The phone company tracked the donations made to the nonprofit, then sent a check to the nonprofit after all the donations were billed. Today, the $5 or $10 default donation amounts have been expanded to include more possible amounts.

Text-to-donate fundraising involves texting a keyword and a donation amount to a short code. Donors receive a link that takes them to a hyper-simple donation form where they enter their payment information and complete their gift. This style of text fundraising involves two steps instead of one, but donors have more flexibility with gift amounts and payment options. They also appreciate that nonprofits get their money much more quickly this way – something that’s critical when your campaign has a sense of urgency!

Make sure your text-to-donate process is simple and easy. This means keeping fields to a minimum; you want to ask for their billing address, email address, and maybe their full name. Remember, donating via text should be simple – this isn’t the time to get a bunch of extra information about your supporters.

If you’re making a compelling appeal with a sense of urgency, people will want to share the work you’re funding. Make it easy to do! Include social sharing options on your confirmation page so your donors can spread the word.

Text giving is a powerful tool

Done right, text fundraising campaigns can be a powerful tool for funding important campaigns. Make it simple, make it visible, and make a great case for support. It’s an effective combination!

Want to learn more about text fundraising? We did a webinar on the subject a few weeks ago. You can also sign up for a free text fundraising email course for easy-to-read lessons right to your inbox.

New call-to-action

Share this

You might enjoy