Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 37 seconds

The Fundraising Strategy Behind Text-to-Pledge

text-messageNonprofits constantly explore ways to create live engagement opportunities through the ubiquitous mobile technologies we utilize in our daily lives. Sophist’s breakthrough Text-to-Pledge platform is a process that leverages text messaging, the worldwide standard in mobile-to-mobile communication, as a means to raise money for charities at their special events, predominantly formal dinners and luncheons.

The effort has paid off immensely, to the tune of $37 Million+ raised thus far for organizations across the United States.  And while much of the industry credits the fundraising success Text-to-Pledge has achieved to the ease of sms and the experience we’ve built around that feature, it is a carefully crafted strategy meant to leverage the tech that actually drives monetization for our non profit clients and ultimately helps their beneficiaries.

In order to guarantee an organization’s fundraising success, Text-to-Pledge piggybacks on the elements most commonly woven into the traditional gala format. Only by comprehending how the preexisting infrastructure works and then adding a set of repeatable best practices has successfully given rise to Text-to-Pledge’s high-ROI, volume giving campaigns within these major donor environments.

Since formal dinners and luncheons tend to be underwritten by table sponsorship, and considering the tables sponsors themselves are generally the only corporations or individuals making a financial commitment prior to the special event, professional fundraisers understand that the vast majority of each gala’s physical audience is comprised of unpaid guests.  Text-to-Pledge’s confluence of features targets this significant sub-audience, achieving participation rates regularly fifteen times greater than more traditional onsite giving methodologies such as pledge cards and reverse auctions.

After an organization’s chosen representative presents a compelling appeal for audiences to give, Text-to-Pledge publishes a call to action on screen, called an overlay, to which the donors can text their name, a brief message and the amount of money they plan to commit. In line with their own preferences, donors can give as high or as low as they’d like, and give as publicly or privately as they’d like, which makes the segment extremely inclusive. And as the customized texts roll in, the excitement in the room grows, encouraging more attendees to participate.  It is the mobile-social conversation, which stimulates the continued participation, and the participation, along with the crowd’s giving capacity, which ultimately drives the revenue.

The most common time to run Text-to-Pledge is concurrent with the program break which ordinarily frames the serving/enjoying of the main course. This creates sufficient space for an ongoing conversation about giving to take place on screen, and monetizes a segment existent within nearly all events, but normally dormant for fundraising. Most importantly, since during the entrée tables guests are captive, eating, drinking, networking, and checking in with the rest of the world via their mobile device regardless of Text-to-Pledge’s inclusion, nothing fundamentally changes about the event’s continuity or culture. What is very different is that Text-to-Pledge is able to leverage organic aspects of the break in ways that create engagement and revenue, both of which increase the audience’s goodwill towards the host.

White glove treatment is necessary whenever targets include corporate partners, major philanthropists, celebrities, VIPs, board members, and prospective first-time donors. For that reason, Text-to-Pledge staff members consult on all aspects of each event- pre, at, and post- in order to provide color on how everything affects everything else. Elements holistically addressed include the av environment, run of show, the choice of presenter, podium script, lead gifts, goal setting, on-screen design content, the inevitable on the fly changes that occur in any live event environment, and, of course, highly sensitive and admin heavy collections outreach practices.  After a year of testing, statistics actually tell us that the average gift per text decreases by approximately $500 when we run campaigns that include remote support instead of an onsite staff presence.  Certain campaigns can make sense out of taking this kind of hit, but skimping is inexcusable for planners of a major gala. There is simply too much happening, too fast, and too much at stake at a benefit to justify nixing boots on the ground. Without the Text-to-Pledge team present an organization has inadvertently, unfairly, and, in all likelihood, detrimentally made a video technician or sound engineer their de facto fundraising professional onsite.

Because of our commitment to servicing only specific event formats, and due to the limitations of scaling when experts must cover so much of the country during the Spring and Fall gala seasons, we are forced to say “no” occasionally. This is never because we fail to see value in a particular cause or that we discount alternative event types, but because underperformance for a non-profit is detrimental to both the credibility of the organization, and to Text-to-Pledge as a platform.  We want to be in a position to guarantee profitability for every client, during every campaign, and have successfully accomplished just that for seven years running. This requires selectively offering service to clients and campaigns. Our dates are our inventory and we need to make them all count…

The matchmaking process pairing Text-to-Pledge with the right campaigns continues to improve. Fundraising revenue is up 40% with donations exceeding to $11 million just in 2014 alone. We are projected to eclipse $50 million cumulatively by 2016 and have worked with over 500 organizations; many of them repeat clients with a retention rate of over 70%. Text-to-Pledge’s donor response rate currently sits at 15%, much of this percentage comprised of first time donors to our client organizations. And as of 2014, the net average pledge lived at $700 per text, the net median pledge at $500. A great technology platform, combined with thoughtful strategy, can be successful. The former without the latter is a shot in the dark, and seldom works, especially with any measure of repeatability.

The success of Text-to-Pledge is thus attributed to the expertise behind the tech… and behind the text. Our knowledge advantage is the most useful and valuable tool our clients obtain when they trust us to incorporate Text-to-Pledge into their highest end, most financially crucial gathering of the season or year. We do not take the responsibility lightly, as the results of our work extend past our own profitability to the communities in which our families and friends live, thereby allowing our team to see the positive impact of our efforts clearly enhancing the environments around us on a daily basis.

Reed Baker is the founder and CEO of New York-based Sophist LLC. Baker is a fundraising strategist with an acute understanding of how organizations can employ technology to impact the bottom line. Sophist’s Text-to-Pledge® program has come to dominate the mobile fundraising space, generating millions of dollars in donations annually by activating attendee mobile phones at charity events across America.
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