Donating to charitable causes via text has been a ubiquitous part of natural disaster response since at least Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But text-to-give (TTG) as it’s known really took off after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, when the American Red Cross raised more than $32 million within one year through its text-to-give campaign.
Text-to-give remains one of the fastest and easiest ways to make a small contribution to an urgent need.
However, texting a donation is only one of many ways to use your phone to make a difference for causes you care about. In fact, texting was popular because we could do it from just about any mobile phone, even our flip phones.
As mobile has become more sophisticated with smartphones, donating by those phones has become easier and now takes many forms.
Furthermore, the use of smartphone devices has skyrocketed over the last decade. According to Pew Research Center, the share of people in the U.S that owned smartphones was 81% as of 2019, up from just 35% in the organization’s first survey of smartphone ownership conducted in 2011. And it is not just young people who use these devices. More than half of all people over 65 now own smartphones.
How has that affected philanthropy? In 2019, The Blackbaud Institute reported that 26% of online donations came through mobile devices. That was up from only 9% in 2014.
Text-to-Give vs. Text-to-Donate
The term “mobile fundraising” covers a lot of ground, but we only need to understand that text-to-give works with our phone carrier to donate to a charitable campaign. On the other hand, with text-to-donate, we use our phone but then connect with the website of the campaign or charity we want to support.
TTG works well during a disaster or sudden event, such as the Haiti earthquake. A charity or campaign promotes a keyword and a short code that we text, and then we choose the amount of money we wish to donate.
TTG is also convenient in the case where there are many donations from thousands and thousands of people—at large events like a football game, for instance.
The amount is small, usually $5 or $10. The donation is collected by your phone carrier and then passed on to an intermediary that ultimately sends the donation to the charity or campaign. The donation shows up on your next phone bill.
While the anonymity and speed of TTG may be appealing and/or inconsequential for the donor, it can also be a challenge for the charitable cause because it may have to wait several months for the money, according to CharityWatch.
For these reasons, TTG is used less frequently today and only in specific suitable circumstances.
Instead, charities depend much more on what is called Text-to-Donate. In this case, donors click on an embedded link in a text message that takes them directly to a website where they can usually donate as much as they like using their credit card.
There is no delay in the money reaching the charity, and no arrangements with the telephone company are needed. Such donations are much less expensive and more sustainable for the charity.
How to Use Text-to-Give and Text-to-Donate
Every announcement of a campaign for text donations comes with a keyword to text and a short code number to send it to. For example, you might be asked to text the word “CHARITY” to the number 491062. The steps then would be to:
- Hit “Send” and you’ve triggered a donation.
- Wait to receive a text message asking you to pick your donation amount and confirm your donation.
- Click “Yes” to finalize the transaction.
A text donation is usually limited to $5 or $10, and it is automatically charged to your mobile phone bill. Your donation goes to a company such as The Mobile Fund that specializes in mobile donations. That company may charge a small fee for the transaction, which comes out of your donation to the charity.
Your phone company may charge you a fee for sending the text, depending on your mobile phone plan. If you want to give more than the maximum amount allowed, you may also be able to repeat your text donation up to a set amount, depending on your phone carrier.
Don’t expect a thank-you other than a short text message automatically sent to your phone. One feature of this type of mobile fundraising is that the charity receiving your donation does not know your name or address, so save your phone bill to use as a receipt if you plan to claim a tax deduction for the donation.
In this case, you may receive a text message from a charity or campaign to which you’ve indicated your interest. Within the text will be a link to the campaign or charity’s donation page on its website. Once at the site, you can donate any amount using your credit card. Alternatively, you may see information about the campaign through social media or other means and then text the keyword to the number indicated.
Many charities use third parties to run their text campaigns, set up dedicated donation pages, and process the donations. There are always fees for donation processing, no matter how you donate digitally. Those fees vary and usually come out of the donation before the charity receives anything.
Charities generally prefer this mode of soliciting donations through texts since it is quick, they get the money fairly quickly, and it does not require arrangements with a phone company. They can get to know donors and interact with them over time. A thank you can be sent immediately to the donor.
Beyond the Text
There are many ways to use your phone to donate to a charity, other than the text-based methods described above. Since we all use our phones as mini-computers, we can visit social media sites and give through those sites to charities we like. For instance, Facebook allows charities to run fundraising campaigns where donors can donate directly from a FB page.
You can also use your phone to research charities and donate directly on their donation pages. Or, you can scan a QR code with your phone and trigger a donation. During the 2020 pandemic, for instance, the Salvation Army placed QR codes on their holiday red kettles so that donors could wave their phones over the code and perform a contactless donation. Google Pay and ApplePay codes work the same way.
But another fun way to give to charity is through specially built apps that add fun, function, and philanthropy to your life.