Mobile Giving and Why People are Bad at Poker

The numbers don't lie, mobile giving is hot. Traffic to is up, organic search for "Mobile Giving" is up, and inquiries to the foundation have sky rocketed.
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"Your org doesn't have mobile giving!!?? How are you supposed to collect the thousands of dollars people could be texting you right now? All you need is a mobile donation short code, that's all the Red Cross did and look how well they're doing." -- Someone you probably know

Mobile giving around Haiti has had another externality that the Mobile Giving Foundation (MGF), the organization behind all text based giving, is now realizing. Everyone thinks getting a mobile text-2-donate short code will win them a huge pot of money (or medium pot). There are currently a little more than 400 approved charities through the MGF and -- in the three weeks following Haiti -- there were more than 800 requests from non-profits about mobile giving.

The numbers don't lie, mobile giving is hot. Traffic to is up, organic search for "Mobile Giving" is up, and inquiries to the foundation have sky rocketed.

Traffic to

Google Searches for "Mobile Giving"

Bad Poker

Experience is the best teacher, however not every experience teaches a wise lesson. Bad habits can be reinforced, like playing seven two off-suite in poker because you won a lot of money one time with the hand. Seven two off-suite is the worst hand in Texas Hold 'em poker and -- if played regularly -- the player is guaranteed to lose money over time.

Starting hand strategy says only put money on the table when you have the right cards in the right position. New poker players frequently jump into a game and go with their gut, which is largely based on past hands won through luck and quickly create bad, money- losing, habits. These players ignore the data about what hands should be played or not played and lose over time. (More on poker starting hands)

Similarly, orgs are jumping into the mobile-giving game with donation as their whole mobile strategy because they saw the Red Cross rake in tens of millions. I spoke with Christian Zimmern,
Co-Founder and Vice President of MGF, and when asked if every org that has an existing mobile giving platform was seeing success he said "20% of our not-for-profits earn 80% of the revenue generated from text-2-give programs." This data follows a standard power law distribution, it is clear simply having a mobile-giving program will not ensure success.

A well thought-out strategy is critical. Christian went on to say that "the biggest opportunity for charities is to reach a different donor base and a younger generation of donor."

Tips for getting into mobile

1. Go with an ASP.

Approved Application Service Providers (ASPs) are the only ones that are officially sanctioned to provide mobile-giving solutions through the MGF. There are many companies that are beginning to sub sell MGF short codes for a discount. If a company or org isn't listed on this site, beware.

2. How are you like the weather?

I check the weather in my ZIP code regularly. offers localized teen volunteer opportunities via text, so at any time users can request a volunteer opportunity in their area -- as though they were checking the weather by texting their ZIP code. What about your org can be as useful as the weather?

3. Try a conversation first.

Just asking for money will exhaust your list. Remember, a conversation is two-way and that your constituents can use mobile to respond with more than just dollars. is free and will let you send and receive messages from your constituents. Once you have a list, you can then jump into the fee-laden world of mobile giving. You also can determine whether mobile is better for you as a communications platform or a donation vehicle.

Team Fox tried this strategy during the 2009 NYC Marathon and used to update its runners during the day and receive instant reports about how the race went. The runner's responses were filtered and then fed to the @TeamFox twitter account. (See the conversation)

4. Collect mobile numbers!

Even if mobile giving is not for you, mobile communication is. Mobile messaging achieves a 90% open rate and it is one of the few less-spammed communication channels left. Use every website form, contest, and petition as an excuse to collect mobile numbers.

Take a page from It has amassed more than 120,000 mobile numbers through sign ups and done basic messaging to keep its list warm. Guess what will happen when they push a full mobile strategy...

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