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Going Mobile?
By: Doug Plank

Allow me the license to incorporate some of the beginning paragraph of Charles Dickens opening in A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light…"

As co-founder of a large provider of mobile SaaS (software as a service) for the faith and nonprofit sector, I have heard many describe the value and many the disappointment of mobile since it literally burst onto the scene to raise money for Haiti relief.

Just text HAITI to a shortcode and make a $5 or $10 donation through your mobile bill. It was fast… it was easy… it was painless (small dollar amounts) and more than 5 million people did just that.

Yet most of my fellow ministry and nonprofit professionals don't realize that mobile was around for a few years beforehand and its utilization was being tested by many for text communication, polling, data gathering and raising funds.

Given the state of the economy (2007-current) and its impact on the need to replace endowment losses, donor attrition, or minimally raise at least as much as the previous year, it is understandable why most ministries and professionals who raise money for a living first started to pay attention when they saw the more than $30 million that was raised for Haiti.

For many, this also raised the false hope that micro mobile donations could/would easily replace the donation losses experienced during the down economy. And, for many, we forgot some of our basic tenants and lessons learned from the advent of online giving—that it takes a commitment to time, testing, familiarization, strategy, and reinforcement with our traditional communication that leads to adoption and optimization.

There are plenty of examples of successes and failures—many have seen the best of times with mobile and many have seen the worst of times. There has been wisdom and foolishness, belief (mixed with a lot of hope), certainly incredulousness and light.  Why do I end with light? Because a couple thousand nonprofits, churches and ministries have truly been trying to figure out how best to use this new tool and there are considerable lessons learned to be shared.

Here are 10 things your church must do:

1. Mobile Lists
Start building your mobile lists now. Collect those mobile numbers however you can (online, email, standard donor pledge forms), use all your standard donor collection methods, and include mobile numbers as one of your desired data fields.

What development professional wouldn't want access to the most effective ubiquitous communication device being carried by literally every current and prospective donor, board member and person they serve?

Open rates for text messaging of 95%+ should be incentive enough. Compare those rates to the decreasing email open rates below 30% and diminishing direct mail rates of single digits.

Granted you'll need to have a strong enough story for them to want to be a part of your lists, but that isn't any different than needing to have a strong enough story to get our direct mail letters, email, publications and event invitations opened and read.  So don't make this too complicated—start somewhere—even with your most loyal donors, current staff and volunteers…get those mobile numbers.

2. Test
Begin testing receptivity of your constituency to joining a mobile list and the types of messaging that will appeal to them. Always keep in mind the importance of "testing" the frequency and type of message your audience is interested in. And, remember such testing is incredibly easy and affordable via mobile. 

Finally, don't forget you have numerous audiences within our constituencies. If your messages are meaningful, you will develop mobile into a trusted and highly responsive communication channel with supporters.
3. Poll
Start with easy polling tools available to measure interest, gather opinions, and free flowing suggestions/ideas from your mobile list(s). Opening this new communication channel by seeking advice, opinion and ideas is a great way to establish trust while refining your mobile communication strategy.

I've heard time and again how valuable this early step is to developing a strong mobile strategy based on actual constituency feedback.  Some of our church and ministry clients uses mobile polling during services/meetings/conferences/conventions to get instant feedback from their audience regarding ministry needs they care to address or serve, scriptural questions they want addressed from the pulpit, volunteering for areas of service and even fundraising.

4. Rich Media
More than 85% of new handsets are web enabled. Texting isn't just 140 characters anymore. Adding a link to a video of your recent Sunday message, your ministry team(s) delivering services to those in need, messages from staff in the field updating supporters to the pastor making a specific call to action for volunteers, or a message expressing heartfelt gratitude from those who benefit most from the generosity of your ministry. Adding video links to your text messages adds valuable stickiness.

5. Mobile Nudge
Nonprofits and churches are finding that sending a text message increases response rates to more traditional communication methods. Nonprofits have seen a valuable "lift" in response rates to direct mail, email, event and volunteer invitations and telephone appeals for year-end gifts when a text message is sent as a follow up to reinforce your latest appeal(s)—whether for financial support or to attend an event.

6. Daily, Weekly Scripture or Word of Encouragement
Some ministries send a daily word, devotional thought, or scripture to their mobile list. This is a great service to those your ministry serves. It keeps you current in their daily life, can be followed up with requests for specific needs of your congregants so that you can better serve them, and adds the stickiness we all desire to have with those we serve and those who support our ministries.

7. Macro Mobile Donations
Most do not realize the advantages of text pledging. This tool secures a donor commitment of any size through SMS messaging and it is fulfilled through credit card.

Many of our clients are using this tool at special events, for special ministry appeals, and to empower peer to peer fundraising to much success.

In fact, we have seen mobile pledges of $10 dollars to $10,000 with this tool. And, the data collected is great—name, address, email, etc., whatever you want to request data-wise. If the donor is willing to share, it can be captured.

8. Mobile Web
If you knew that 40% of your constituency is conducting most of their web browsing via their mobile device, how differently would you approach your web presence? Do you have a mobile friendly web site? Are you anticipating or responding to this fact?

Additionally, online donations will be moving to mobile for obvious reasons—so dollar amount and data gathering will be greatly enhanced and subsequent or recurring donations can be easily confirmed and processed.

9. Strategy
It isn't complicated, but you need to think through your objectives for mobile and keep in mind that integration with your other communication channels is important.

Your initial objective should be to build a mobile list (regardless of size) that you can begin testing for receptivity to message content and frequency

Poll your "test" list(s) and get feedback on their experience. Most participants think mobile polling is a great tool and that you (the nonprofit) really care about their opinion. Also, it is great fun and actually very easy to administer.

Integrate texting to supplement and support a call-to-action being sent through email, direct mail or in person

Initiate a test "peer-to-peer" mobile solicitation campaign.

Create a story around your organization's desire to go mobile and seek feedback from your early adopters and even those who resist. Give some literal and digital ink to your mobile strategy and seek feedback.

10. Start
It's affordable, it's effective, it's flexible, and your competition is already using or planning  to use mobile soon. According to Mobile Commerce Daily, 50% of nonprofits will use mobile [in some way] by 2012.

I only have one "don't." Don't wait.

Doug Plank is the chief executive officer of MobileCause, www.mobilecause.com.

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