Feature Story

Goodbye Checkbook, Hello Tablet: Fundraising Goes Mobile

by Kirsten Chiala

A look at how tablets and smartphones are replacing checkbooks and clipboards.

At a recent fundraising party in San Jose Calif., there was a signature cocktail selling for $20, tasty appetizers paired with designer wines, and an iPad, making its way around the room. Host Mark Fordyce was offering guests a chance to make a donation to his wife Kirsten's Avon Breast Cancer Walk.

They threw a party, and decided using a tablet would be a perfect way for Mark to mingle with guests and fundraise at the same time. Kirsten says they were originally going to use a laptop to collect donations, but the tablet allowed for mobility. "We saw this as an interactive experience for our guests. It was part of the event, rather than sitting and taking time to write a check, when people saw others donating on the iPad, it prompted them to take a turn."

Mobile fundraising is quickly catching up to the traditional mode of gathering money. Even churches are getting into the game, offering parishioners a chance to give with a click of a button instead of throwing cash or check in the Sunday collection basket.

Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Ga. has been a pioneer in digital donations. Head pastor, Marty Baker introduced the nation's first church giving kiosk in 2004 after noticing he and many others rarely carried a checkbook or cash. The kiosk allows people to donate with their bank card. Then, three years ago when he saw the trend toward mobile, he created the mobile giving app, "Secure Give." His church became the first to launch a donation app on iTunes. "Making people write a check was a barrier and we wanted to remove the barriers." One other benefit of mobile giving is a consistent revenue stream. Baker says, "In the old economy, we were affected by travel cycles of individuals, and would see giving dip in the summer, mobile giving keeps the income steady. People can give wherever they are."   

Organizations like the Salvation Army have also found success with mobile fundraising. During the holidays, people can become virtual "bell ringers" with the Red Kettle app, which allows a person to track fundraising progress, and social network with friends while asking for funds.

In addition to using apps, the Salvation Army's strategy is to make sure all of its primary internet giving programs work on any mobile platform. Chief Information Officer Clarence White says, "We want to reach as many donors as we can, and that's difficult in an environment where you create apps that isolate some users. That's why we use new technologies like HTML5, to work on as many platforms as possible."

The move to mobile has led to thriving new business opportunities. One search of the web shows a plethora of mobile payment systems for non-profits and charities. One app called Easy Tithe, touts the benefits of its service for tracking donations and making transactions simple and automatic for churchgoers. It can be integrated with a group's Facebook page.

Another company, Good Karma Now, wants to make giving even more seamless. It's doing away with its mobile app, and moving to a system that will let donors scan a QR code which would take them straight to a mobile-optimized web site where they can make their donation with a few taps.

Gary Ebersole of Good Karma Now says, "Think of these snap.tap.give QR codes as a donate button for the physical world. If you are online, almost all nonprofits have a donate button on their websites but what do you do if you are at a fundraising event? Nobody is going to open their mobile browser, search for the nonprofit web site, and browse through several pages to find a donate button."

Mobile fundraising is poised to get even bigger as people around the world gravitate to smart phones. And that change is happening rapidly. Cisco's latest mobile forecast predicts in just a few short months, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth, and mobile data traffic from around the globe will grow 13 fold by 2017, an annual growth rate of 66%.

Kirsten Fordyce says mobile giving is the way to go. It's easier, faster, and for the fundraising organization, it may mean more green. In her words, "Psychologically people will give more using credit cards than checks."


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