19 posts categorized

March 20, 2015

Did American Idol Help Kickstart the Text-to-Donate Fundraising Culture?


Aside from launching the music careers of several aspiring singers, American Idol can also be credited with inspiring a new way to raise money for disaster relief. 

The show’s primary voting system, which allows viewers to cast votes via their mobile devices, became a springboard for AT&T engineer Marin Croak who realized a similar use for the technology as hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast in 2005. 

Instead of transmitting fan votes via text message to an operator, Croak came up with a way to pass donations via text to participating charities. The donation would later show up as a charge on the person’s cell phone bill.

However, Croak recalls, during this time, that the use of text messaging was not nearly as popular as it is today. According to an informal poll taken in 2008 on AT&T’s website, approximately 22% of respondents reported having learned to text as a result of American Idol’s voting system—an interesting perspective attributed to the powerful reach of AI. The subsequent increase in text messaging may have also helped prepared voters to become donors.  

AT&T who originally set up American Idol’s voting system in the early 2000s, placed a patent on behalf of Croak in October 2005. And although AT&T currently maintains this patent, Croak says AT&T is not seeking to make the patent propriety—which is great news for nonprofits and disaster relief programs.

For example, in 2010 text-to-donate made its first major headline debut during the earthquake in Haiti. The relief organization collected an unprecedented $30 million via impulse disaster-relief donations— a term which describes the ease and accessibility of this technology. What’s more, these donations were collected $10 at a time. Other significant text-to-donate relief campaigns have included Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.  

Aside from generating these donations through a streamline system, nonprofits are now able to acquire donors, not just cash donations. Opening up this intimate communication channel may be more valuable than a $10 donation. Organizations can engage donors over time, build a relationship and collect future contributions. 

Notable organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, GlobalGiving, Mercy Corps, and Saving the Children have all established similar text-to-donate programs. 

Although Croak holds dozens of patents, she is particular proud of this one, which has made an enormous difference in the way people interact with their mobile devices as well as in the world of philanthropy.


March 10, 2015

SMS Helping Sierra Leonean Become 'Citizen Reporters'


Advances in text messaging have extended to social causes, including those fighting disease and providing assistance to third-world communities. 

International development charity Christian Aid launched “SMS Voices” in January of last year, working in partnership with ENCISS, a Sierra Leone-based governance program funded by U.K. Aid and the European Union. The program is designed to help elected officials and citizens maintain an open dialogue, and was created by Radar, a U.K. communications nongovernmental organization.

SMS Voices trained 45 volunteers from Sierra Leone’s Bo and Koinadugu districts, including farmers, traders, students, and teachers, to become “citizen reporters.” Throughout 2014 they used text messaging to report issues of concern to their local councilors via anonymous micro-reports. Issues raised included the lack of teaching materials in schools, conflict among local groups, unsafe roads and bridges, clean water access, female genital mutilation, teen pregnancy, inefficient waste management, and violence against women and children.

Messages were received by nine participating elected officials, who were instructed to respond to micro-reports through text messaging and explain to reporters their plans to rectify these issues in their respective communities. Some said they would investigate, while others claimed they would bring the issues up at council meetings or alert the relevant police officer or mayor. Whatever the decision and outcome of the reports, an effective dialogue was indeed created between officials and citizens. 

Over 300 reports were sent during the 12-month period, and towards the end of the year some two-thirds concerned the Ebola crisis. Volunteers discussed how households were affected by quarantine regulations, reported regulation breaches, and shared concerns about infection.

“During the rebel war there were no mobile phones; now with Ebola, communication is possible,” remarked Martin M B Goba, deputy chairman of the Bo District Council. “During my time in quarantine, I was able to communicate with my ward development committee with an immediate response.” Goba lost several family members to the disease.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s helping me to improve on my job and to know the problems in my community, so that I can find solutions to them,” he added. “It has improved my interaction with civil society and shown me how to act immediately and promptly to community concerns.” 

The project has demonstrated the possibility of running low-cost, innovative programs in low-resource environments, such as within Sierra Leone, where less than 10 percent of the population have access to electricity, and a mere 2 percent use the Internet. 

“I have seen change,” remarks volunteer Evelyn Turay. “I have now seen council officials in the community raising awareness on issues around teenage pregnancy and early sexual activities [of young people] which I have been reporting on.” 

As the program progresses, it’s increasingly obvious that text messaging provides a powerful tool for helping third-world communities stay engaged and empowered.


December 02, 2014

Crank Up Your Marketing Efforts for Christmas


As the holiday shopping season draws near, it’s important to “amp up” marketing efforts. Let’s check out a few holiday promotional tactics small businesses can implement and subsequently increase brand recognition while ensuring customer loyalty.


Email Marketing

A straightforward option, email assorted blasts to opted-in customers about deals, sales and other promotions, and create holiday messages discussing new promo codes or other exclusive, limited-time offers. Existing customer discounts and free gift cards with purchase are generally the most successful email blast options, as they build brand loyalty and referrals in addition to increasing sales. Find an appealing holiday template, add the right information, and go from there.


Content Marketing

Whatever you “put out there” for your customers should engage them--don’t simply go for the boring sales pitch. Place attention-grabbing content on social media channels, blogs, press releases, articles, videos...think funny holiday clips, last-minute tips, guides on using your products, fun and helpful newsletters, and more. Information on day-before-Christmas ordering is another great content marketing method.


Social Media

Social media is a viable option for promoting your brand and products. Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook all provide real-time access to customers and their online communities, with social media marketing even more essential during the holiday season. Upload holiday-themed images to your accounts, such as product shots in holiday settings or stores/offices decorated for the season. Provide regular updates on holiday promotions, sales, return policies and shipping cut-off dates, but don’t forget to add fun seasonal facts and similar information as well. Promoting gift card opportunities with links back to official websites is another option.


SMS Marketing

Text message marketing is becoming more and more prevalent, as it provides an easy, cost-effective method for reaching the vast majority of your customers instantly. Send holiday promo codes to opted-in customers, as well as exclusive holiday coupons and sales alerts. Advertise Christmas-themed discounts and specials to potential customers who opt-in, and enjoy a larger database you can utilize all year long.


Open House 

Another excellent Christmastime marketing idea is to host an open house at your place of business if applicable. Provide cookies and warm cider and or mulled wine, as well as free gift-wrapping for shoppers. Raffles, discounts and other special promos also work when advertising an open house, as do cross-promotional efforts, such as offering handmade chocolates from the confectionary across the street. If your business caters to children, have a friend or co-worker dress up as Santa and hand out candy canes or Christmas-themed coloring books while taking free photos with customers and their little ones.

These are just some of many marketing options to try this holiday season. Good luck, and Happy Holidays. 

November 04, 2014

How Spamming is Helping Fight Ebola


Spamming is aiding the fight against Ebola.

Operators of text messaging system Tera, which provides advice and help to people fighting Ebola in the Sierra Leone region, are looking to extend the service to seven other African nations—Mali, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Burkina Faso. Ebola kills victims via dehydration and multiple organ failure, and more than 4,000 West Africans have perished from the disease.

The network allows Red Cross and Red Crescent charities to “send SMS messages to every switched-on handset in a specific area by drawing its shape on a computer-generated map.” Automatic, appropriate replies to incoming texts are also featured. Both charities aim for expansion completion over the next nine months, but cooperation of local mobile authorities and networks is needed.

"It's been doing an excellent job in Sierra Leone, sending out in the region of 2 million messages per month, helping the communities there to prepare themselves, try to avoid getting infected, and then if they do, to know what to do about it," notes Robin Burton from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “Unlike TV and radio, if we send them a text message it's retained on the phone."

The trick is quelling each nation’s concerns or fears about joining the network.

"The thing operators might have a problem with is that they are basically being asked to spam millions of their customers, and people often object to that," says Ken Banks, an SMS expert who advises the UK's Department for International Development. "When people in Haiti received messages asking them to donate blood [after the 2010 earthquake] that were blasted out willy-nilly some were not in a position to do so, and they found it annoying.”

However, Banks notes operators can’t really argue this one, as no one wants to be accused of blocking potentially life-saving messages during an epidemic. He adds that the significance of the Red Cross as an organization will also fuel the proverbial fire. The IFRC also wants Tera to appear as "network friendly" as possible, and allow individual subscribers to opt out and operators to apply exclusion lists.

The network is specifically designed to send texts to powered-up handsets. This avoids build-up of millions of undelivered messages, and therefore potential network strain. Staggered texts are yet another way the network is preventing overload, and the system is location-sensitive, so messages are sent to affected areas only.

An inexpensive system to operate, Tera may be utilized during natural disasters and for relief effort feedback, potentially emerging as one of the key factors in helping to limit the damage from both natural and human-spread calamities.

July 31, 2014

Beyond Marketing: 4 Unexpected Uses for SMS


SMS messaging has become a key component of any mobile marketing strategy. It’s use as an advertising tool has been well documented – not least on this very organ – but there are all sorts of weird, wonderful ways to leverage the power of text. Schools, community groups, churches and even emergency services have begun incorporating SMS into their processes. We’ve cherry picked our favorite unusual uses of SMS messaging outside of the mobile marketing realm…

Finding Lost Pets

Companies like MobiPet are helping pet owners locate lost furry friends. When notified of a lost animal, they send photo alerts by text message to registered vets, animal shelters and pet owners within a 30 mile radius. Animal lovers have rallied round the idea which, unlike microchip implants, is non-invasive and requires no equipment apart from a camera-enabled mobile phone with text message capability.

Donating to Good Causes

Text-to-donate has proven highly effective at engaging people who don’t donate to charity by other methods. In 2007, a Super Bowl commercial raised $10,000 within seconds for the victims of the recent tsunami in Asia. The Haiti earthquake relief effort also benefitted from a text campaign, with the Red Cross eventually pulling in $32 million for victims. The success of text-to-donate is owed to the simplicity of the process. People too busy to go through the hassle of visiting a website and uploading credit card information can simply reply to a text message and have their donation applied to their phone bill.

Emergency Alerts

Closer to home, Hurricane Sandy – the second costliest hurricane in the US since records began – had a devastating impact on local businesses, but SMS proved to be a true survivor in the face of infrastructural collapse. Businesses and emergency services used SMS to keep residents up to date on the weather and how the damage it caused would affect them. 

Talking to Home Appliances

‘Smart appliances’ allow their owners to control them remotely via text message. Appliances are programmed to respond to a series of commands, so if you have an unexpected guest coming to your house, and you don’t have time to go home and clean, you can send a text to your robotic vacuum cleaner or mop. Intelligent SMS systems are also being used in fridges to tell owners what they need to pick up from the store, and even suggest recipe ideas!

March 19, 2014

Is Text-to-Tip The Future?


Starbucks has added a digital tipping feature to its mobile payment program, allowing customers to easily add tips to their purchases. The app will be available for iOS on March 19, 2014, with an Android option to launch later this year.

Users in the United States, Canada and the U.K. will enjoy access to this app, which provides customers with a two-hour window following a transaction to add a tip of 50cents, $1 or $2 to the bill. The subsequent digital receipt will reflect the added tip. Starbucks Mobile Pay has been available for three years and allows users to pay with a digital version of their Starbucks card on their smartphones. Entitled “Shake to Pay,” users simply shake their phones to pull up their Starbucks card barcodes and make payments.

"We're really excited because tipping has been something our customers have been really asking for," said Starbucks Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman to CNET. "More and more customers...carry cash with them less and less these days. It's nice to be able to leave a tip for your barista and your store using mobile payment now on the iPhone app."

This is the first time mobile phone users will be able add tips to their digital bills. Some 10 million customers have already downloaded the Starbucks payment app, which covers about 11% of in-store purchases. It makes sense that the coffee giant added the tip option to this already wildly-successful mobile marketing strategy, and will undoubtedly set the bar for other companies who employ tipping. 

More and more companies are utilizing SMS messaging to promote their business or brand, including opt-in apps that alert customers to store sales, provide exclusive discounts and downloadable coupons, remind customers of appointments and much more. Most companies have found such mobile marketing tactics highly effective and are scrambling to come up with new and effective ways to maintain client relationships while simultaneously attracting new customers.

Restaurants, hotels and other customer service-based businesses and companies are likely to develop and market their own tipping apps, assuming Starbuck’s app is successful. Given how popular the company’s mobile payment app is, it is very likely the tipping option will be yet another successful mobile marketing strategy. Customers could easily tip those who clean their hotel rooms when checking out, or add a tip if using their smartphones to pay for takeout. Even smaller operations that use smartphones to take payments, such as independently-owned hair and nail salons, can benefit from tipping apps.

SMS messaging and subsequent mobile marketing tactics aren’t going anywhere! It therefore makes perfect sense for companies to continue to develop their mobile marketing strategy, whether it involves tipping apps or not! 

November 16, 2013

Leverage Mobile Marketing for Fundraising




Mobile marketing strategies used for commercial purposes can be equally effective in the non-profit and charity sector. Natural disasters and other emergency situations call for precisely the sort of instant response facilitated by texting, which is why charities and aid organizations all over the world are leveraging the power of SMS to generate awareness as well as monetary donations.

Earlier this year, World Vision used a typical mobile advertising strategy in the run-up to the Chicago marathon. They implemented a text program to inspire athletes preparing for the race, and found that those who got involved ultimately raised 50% more money than those who didn't. The informal messages allowed runners and spectators alike to share their experiences of participating in the fundraiser. In one instance, World Vision issued a message asking trainees to tell them how many runs they had completed that week. Those that hadn't run at all received the following message:

“Training is tough, but you can do it. Jump back into the training plan, and take it one day at a time.”

Another great application of common mobile marketing trends for charitable purposes was achieved by the Red Cross, during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The organization launched a donate-by-text program, heavily promoted by the US government and on social media. According to a Pew internet report conducted in the aftermath of the appeal, half of all donors went on to encourage their friends and family to donate, and 76% of those people ultimately contributed money via text message. It was a classic mobile advertising strategy: get an informal message out to x amount of people, and rely on word-of-mouth to do the rest. The same happened after Hurricane Sandy. Nearly a million dollars was donated to the fund solely by text message

But why are mobile marketing solutions so effective for fundraising? In part, it's the payment process itself that appeals to people. By donating money via text instead of credit card, the transaction is made significantly easier, with less of the attendant stress regarding fraud, and just a lot less hassle. People tend to regard text costs as money already spent, so if they can put it towards a good cause, all the better. The convenience of the medium is perfect for generous people who feel they don't have time to fill in online forms, or send checks through the mail.

Finding the right time to ask for money is crucial to the success of such campaigns. According to recent statistics, Fridays and Mondays are the most rewarding times of the week. It's also important to stay in touch with users; give them regular updates about your charity's work so they can stay informed. By looking at successful mobile strategies for small business ventures, and adapting them to your fundraising appeal, you can achieve better results than for-profit companies can dream of. Look into starting your own mobile marketing strategies for charity fundraisers, and start making a real difference. 


February 21, 2012

5 DIY Digital Communication Tools to Highlight Your Cause

Entry By Jason Brick

Even more than a for-profit business, a non-profit cause needs to maximize its reach while minimizing expenses. DIY digital initiatives, because of their scalability, are some of the best ways to achieve this goal. Your organization is probably already using some digital communication tools, but here are others you should consider implementing.

Diy Digital

1. Flash Demonstrations

This is the most visible way to take advantage of mobile media. Using a text message broadcast, you can organize a meeting of followers with short notice and big results. Depending on your goals, the result can range from a simple presentation, to an artistic display, to a full-bore protest. 

2. Send Reports

Informing your contact list about your cause is key to keeping them involved and giving. A regular report citing statistics, recent developments, and progress made on projects, is a necessary part of your website. An occasional announcement, sent via text marketing, can serve as an extra "ping," to keep your cause front of mind.

3. Text-To-Give

A recent UK report found a 15% response rate for text-to-give fundraising efforts. While low compared to other methods, because the costs are small, text-to-give generates strong returns in spite of the low response rate. So, include a text-to-give message in your publicity initiatives, as well as in occasional broadcasts, to maximize the reach of this method. 

4. Go Viral

The power of digital media is in sharing. Encourage your original recipients to share your broadcasts with their network, and to ask their network to help spread the message as well. Remember, impactful and insightful messages are the most likely to get re-broadcast. As for humor, it can get a lot of shares, but may not be appropriate for your cause's message. Always err on the side of caution.

5. Integrate QR

Quick response codes are easy ways for a potential contact to get involved in your cause, and have a "gadget factor" that may draw some early adopters who would otherwise be less attracted to your organization. Plant your QR panel on bumper stickers, paperwork, fliers, print advertising -- even on your T-shirts. The more places that panel pops up, the better your response will be. 


Scam Alert

Unfortunately, more than a few scams have used digital media -- and especially text-to-give campaigns -- to draw fraudulent donations. Your organization will see the strongest results if you pair your digital media initiatives with a professional web and physical presence. This can help contacts feel safe about getting involved with and giving to your cause. 


December 12, 2011

Service-Based Marketing For Your Small Business

Service-Based Marketing For Your Small Business is the twelfth in a series of articles that we'll be posting this fall. Small Business Marketing Tips To Build Sales In A Down Economy will teach you how to use do-it-yourself tools like SMS, email and social media to effectively market your business.

Entry By Jason Brick

Give A Helping HandThe great thing about mobile media is that it's so cheap and easy anybody can do it

The bad thing about mobile media is that it's so cheap and easy anybody can do it. 

This double-edged media sword makes it hard for small businesses with small marketing budgets to stand out in the noisy crowd of electronic voices. Service-based marketing, though, will let you stand out in the best possible way: by giving back to the same community that keeps your business afloat.

Step One: Find a Cause
Choose a cause you care about, preferably one served by an agency or non-profit in your local area. Some examples include:

  • Reducing pollution
  • Hungry families
  • Homeless families
  • Diabetes (or Cancer or AIDS) awareness

Once you've chosen your cause, reach out to a nearby group dedicated to that problem. Most major metro areas will have one or more. Local chapters beat national organizations here because you'll have better opportunities for "face time."

Step Two: Plan an Event
Host an event – either at your location or in a prominent area like a parking lot at a major intersection – to raise funds for that cause. Use a "hook" somehow related to your business to make it memorable. Print coupons or gift certificates for everybody who participates.

Bushido Martial Arts of Hillsboro, Oregon, for example, collected over three tons of food by having students stand outside local grocery stores with signs saying "Will Teach Karate For Food." Everybody who came out of a store with a can for the l ocal food bank got a coupon for a free week of lessons.

Your event doesn't have to focus on fundraising; you can also focus on awareness – such as renting an air compressor to "top off" cars for free and improve gas mileage.

Step Three: Tell Everybody
Once you've set a date, it's time to activate your social media team.  Use every media channel you have access to, and spread the word. It's rarely worth it to pay for advertising, but you can write a press release for the local paper. The local group you've partnered with should help you with this – either with their own publicity team, or by providing graphics or other support.

Step Four: Broadcast Live
Use SMS, Twitter and Facebook to post ongoing progress reports on the day of your event. Let recipients know how many people are already there, about upcoming special speakers or other activities, and your progress towards your goal. You can also use the feed to organize a "flash presentation," by encouraging hard core fans to show up all at once.

Step Five: Recap
Send a follow-up press release to the local paper if you didn't get a reporter on scene. Send a mobile broadcast with thanks and final results. When you present your earnings to the local charity, get photos and post them on your website. Tell everybody about it, and include a coupon offer for  anybody who brings in a copy of the story.

Service-based marketing requires some creativity and a front-end filled with hard work. Used successfully, it's worth the investment of time and effort.

November 16, 2011

7 Ways Religious Groups Can Use Text Messaging To Build Community

Post By Angela Stringfellow

Imagine this: You’re sitting in church listening to the choir finish up your favorite hymn, when you hear a distinct buzz.  You turn around to see a church deacon pull out his phone and begin the two-thumb dance of replying to a text message.  

There’s can’t be much worse than seeing someone sitting in the middle of a religious service, listening to the sermon and texting.  But is there a way to blend the power of the SMS message with religious activities?

It's not a blasphemous question at all. Here is a list of 7 powerful ways SMS messaging can be used to better the religious community:

1. Prayer lists: The power of prayer is astonishing and there is power in numbers.  Often times, prayer lists are included in church bulletins and quarterly newsletters, often getting into the hands of the congregation days or weeks after the need first arises.  Miracles happen every day, most attributed to some sort of divine intervention.  Using text messaging can instantly get information into the hands of those who can provide prayer, positive thoughts and support to a family in need.

2. Message of the day: We’ve all seen quote-of-the-day calendars offering scripture or words of encouragement.  The quick quotes are designed to be motivating, re-affirming or simply just a reminder to live life honorably, graciously and with faith.  The simple task of sending an SMS message to the congregation will offer the same words of hope, faith and love.

3. Sermon /Bible study suggestions: For religious leaders who write their own sermons, writer's block is inevitable, and they often find themselves scrambling at the last minute to complete the story they want to share. A quick text to the congregation for suggestions can not only provide good ideas, but allow the congregation a sense of ownership over the content of the services.  In addition, having an interactive process allows the material to be relevant.  A quick poll can take a national statistic and make it local. In addition, SMS can be used to discuss topics for discussion at Bible studies or other educational forums.

4. Social service events/notifications: A flood, a fire, a family’s medical emergency. The need for help is often immediate. SMS texting can provide the perfect opportunity to reach out to vast numbers of people who can provide the resources needed in a time of crisis. Whether it’s rounding up the troops to help in the aftermath of a natural disaster or reminding volunteers of the canned food drive, the simple and quick notification can be the difference between a turnout of five and a turnout of 100.

5. Recruitment campaigns: Many churches, synagogues and religious institutions are struggling with attendance. Younger members are simply not attending as they once were. SMS messaging can be used to supplement recruitment campaigns by providing information on congregational meetings, religious services, youth group activities or simply to invite the community to a meet and greet.  The call-to-action alone may be enough to get a few people in the door.

6. Fund raising: If the church is in need of a new elevator, a roof, or perhaps a new organ, the contributions of its congregation are vital. Notifications used to be hung in parlors or on bulletin boards in the community. Now, the unobservant can be notified quickly and easily with a text message announcing the fund raising event. After the initial message it’s easy for those who received the message to pass it along to their social network.  Not only does this help raise the funds, but will help the organization gain community exposure and potentially bring new members through their doors with the event.

7. Religious news: People like to be informed.  Many young families are too busy with their lives to stop and take a moment to read the paper or even watch the news. What better way to share news that is pertinent to your congregation than to send a link via SMS.  On smartphones, the quick and simple links can be viewed and the congregation is now up-to-date on the latest news surrounding the religious community.

The fact of the matter is that texting is quick, easy and efficient.  The challenge is finding appropriate ways for the religious community to take advantage of the technologies available. By providing opportunities for members to interact, the community as a whole grows stronger; thus, accomplishing the ultimate goal: spreading the word.

How is your church or religious center using technology and SMS messaging? If you’re not using it, would you consider it?

Learn how other religous groups are using text messaging right now.