SMS Fundraising: Is it really the answer?

Many consider SMS to have eclipsed more traditional methods of marketing such as direct mail, voicemail, social media posts, newspapers or TV.  Although SMS is primarily used to reach customers for commercial purposes, it is apparently being adopted increasingly by non-profits for fundraising purposes.

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But how does SMS really work?  And is it effective?

What’s it all about?

SMS is an acronym which stands for “short message service”.   Simply put, they are text messages sent to a phone by a phone or computer.   Generally, all that is required is a catchy keyword (like SUCCEED or BUILD) to punch on a keypad, a short code number (like 33333) and a link to a secure and mobile-friendly donation page that donors use  by using their credit or debit cards.

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Proponents trot out all sorts of arguments and statistics to back up their claims.  Service providers such as the Canadian TTAG SystemsMobile Cause and Zip Give say their platforms make it fast and easy for donors to give to non-profits of all types and sizes.   The system does not require registration.  Texting is discreet and quicker than making a phone call. Messages can be delivered even if the phone is turned off or out of range once service has been restored.

And fees to the non-profits are low.  In addition, text messages are a useful tool for reaching existing and potential donors with customized content.  Donors can be apprised, for example, of progress being made at school by their “own” foster child, thus engaging donors and ensuring lasting loyalty  and repeat donations.

And 90% of the population have mobile phones.  Americans send and receive 32 texts per day.  98% of text messages are opened.  94% of smart phone users 70 and older are sending text messages on a weekly basis. 76% of supporters appreciate text messages and reminders, which encourages donors to come back and give again.  SMS is second only to web donations in the USA, although it is worth noting that SMS is not popular among Boomers and Matures.


One use of  the SMS approach is where UNICEF is using test messaging to raise money for the children of Syria during the bloody and costly civil war (

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So, what are the drawbacks?

I have to confess that I have never engaged in an SMS non-profit fundraising campaign, but as someone who has undertaken more traditional fundraising, particularly grants, I can offer some observations.

Before launching into these, I should say that my interest is as a non-profit fundraiser on behalf of non-profits in developing countries, where realities are quite different from what we experience in Canada.

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In no particular order:

  • the non-profits utilizing the service providers mentioned above are usually required to have their own subscriber lists from which solicitation can be undertaken.
  • Asking a developing country non-profit to develop a subscriber list of  Canadian phone numbers would be challenging but I could investigate having a Canadian partner act on their behalf to undertake this.
  • While American service provides argue that non-profits have  the authority to send text messages without receiving permission, I would need to investigate this in the Canadian context.
  • traditional means of promotion (such as media advertising, e-mails or direct mail) are  still required to reach potential donors in Canada not already on subscriber lists.  Or a Jumbotron will have to be used at a concert of sports venue to promote the campaign.  All of this will cost money up front, which developing country non-profits often do not have.
  • the non-profits may not have the expertise or budget (likely upward of $5,000 per annum) to maintain the fundraising campaign once it has been set up.
  • non-profit fundraising for a non-Canadian organization would not entitle donors to any tax benefits, which may be a significant deterrent; andperson holding black pen
  • the size of donations from the SMS approach is often relatively small ($5-$50) compared to funding potentially available through traditional granting sources, although admittedly the latter are difficult to obtain.  This would suggest the need for a comprehensive approach to fundraising utilizing various platforms.

From a technical perspective, Tiesha Whatley has identified various problems, not the least of which is that SMS technology can be easily attacked.  In addition, too many messages at once can overpower control panels and hinder users from receiving phone calls.  There is often a cost-per-call to users.  And there is frequently a long hold time before receiving messages. 

The above observations are drawn after a quick analysis and some very basic research.  But even some techies seem to recognize that the platform is not unanimously supported within the fundraising industry or might even be outdated. A Tech Soup Canada guru recently wrote in a somewhat apologetic and qualified tone, “Although there are many misconceptions around SMS marketing it is still (sic) an effective and affordable tool to reach donors.”

What do you think?  

Over to you now.  Have you ever used SMS as a donor or fundraiser?  If so, what was your experience like? Do you think SMS is an effective fundraising tool?  Could it be used by a developing world non-profit for fundraising among Canadian  donors?  Let me know what you think.

The Importance of Personal Branding

It is important for participants in the modern economy to develop their personal brands.  As Tom Peters has written “our most important job is to be head marketer of the brand called you”.

With this quote in mind, my objectives for this paper are twofold:

  • to delineate and elucidate my own personal brand, thus better positioning myself to obtain volunteer assignments with Canadian Executive Services Organization  (CESO) in the field of grants (and fundraising generally); and
  • to enumerate some strategies for fundraising with potential clients while working as a CESO volunteer which will arise from and help consolidate this brand.

My specialization

My area of specialization is as an international development grant and fundraising consultant (IDGFC:  my acronym) in such areas as health, education, economic livelihoods, water/sanitation and protection.  Admittedly, this is a somewhat unwieldy designation and one which may require some refinement in terms of appearing in a catchy profile.

I have come to this specialization for various reasons, including my personal skills and attributes.  These include an interest in life-long learning, adaptability, cross-cultural understanding, writing, communications, advocacy, interpersonal relationships and a knowledge of English and French.

The following experiences distinguish me in this field:

  • Fourteen years administration of Government of Canada grants and contributions;
  • Crafting various applications on behalf of community organization for funding from different sources for Ottawa’s One World Film Festival;
  • Serving as a Canadian diplomat, including postings in Thailand and Ethiopia;
  • Two assignments with Canadian Executive Services Organization (CESO) (Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Emmanuel Development Association) in Ethiopia relating to grants;
  • Current enrollment in Algonquin College course Introduction to Social Media;
  • Extensive cross-cultural work, including as Director of Government of Canada Multiculturalism Program and Mentor Coordinator for Tibetan Resettlement Project Ottawa;
  • Serving as Executive Director of a non-profit (Canadian Parents for French [BC/Yukon]); and
  • Exceeding the fundraising goal by 45% (to date) related to Lisgar Collegiate’s 175th Anniversary celebrations.

I  can provide courses on how to research, apply for and manage international development assistance grants and fundraising and undertake these activities directly.  This is a very important skill as most non-profit organizations in the developing work struggle for funding.

Building a brand: platforms to use and communities to join

To further the first objective stated above, that of better positioning myself to secure further CESO assignments, I will update my current CESO resumé and covering letter to include successful completion of this course and an enhanced ability to converse in social media and undertake crowdfunding activities. While traditional written grant applications are important, increasing emphasis is being placed upon crowdfunding and SMS texting, as I shall reference later.

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Secondly, I need to practise my newly acquired social media skills. Amongst other things, I intend to use my existing WordPress account and upgrade it to obtain more features such as a custom domain name, more storage space, removal of WordPress ads and simply payments.  This will provide me with a platform to blog about various issues relating to international development assistance grants and fundraising.

Thirdly, I will become more fluent in Twitter and LinkedIn, both of which I already subscribe to, and use more of their features such as posting, linking and tweeting.  By undertaking such activity, I will enhance my own reputation, determine who is talking about me and learn more about the topics I am interested in.

While there is a limit on the amount of text that one can post, Twitter ( is one of the most widely used microblogs (Class Materials, Lesson #3) and, therefore, potentially useful for wide dissemination of a fundraising cause, for example.  It is excellent for providing direct and real-time access to individuals or controlled groups for knowledge and link sharing as well as problem solving.  It has become “de rigueur” due to its frequent use by US President Trump.  Indeed, some observers have speculated that it might, in conjunction with other social media, replace traditional e-mail (

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Considered “the professional social network”, LinkedIn ( allows users to create profiles and connect to other users, share insights and create group communities. As Sherman and Smith state, LinkedIn does not “try to be everything to everyone … Sticking to its guns has make LinkedIn the most powerful business-oriented social network around.”  (Sherman and Smith, Social Media Engagement for Dummies, p. 241).  As I already have 1,450 LinkedIn contacts with whom I can interact, it is logical to continue with this platform.  It is worth pointing out that during a recent CESO assignment, I used the personal contact info on LinkedIn to contact 10 key potential donors.

As I undertake the above digital media activities and build my brand, there are a few practices I should bear in mind.  One is that I should not try and be “all things to all people”.  In this case, I have deliberately targeted my areas of expertise, that of international development assistance granting.  Secondly, my profile across channels and platforms should be consistent in terms of name, profile, picture, image and look.  This I will undertake.  (Kevan Lee, The Five Keys…, Buffer, January 15, 2015).  Finally, I need to “be aware of my audience, who they are, how they like to communicate and what is important to them (Course materials Lesson #4 and Robert Montenegro, How to manage personal and professional personas while on-line, Big Think-Smarter Faster)

Another activity in which I should participate to attain my objectives is to join actual communities.  The Canadian Association of International Development Professionals (CAID) has as its purpose to” give voice to the concerns and interests of Canadian international development professionals.  The Association’s objectives are to:

  • Foster excellence in international development consulting
  • Promote the collective interests of international development professionals
  • Provide a forum for members to exchange professional information and engage in professional development. (

It might be appropriate to seek a volunteer role with this organization or speak at one of their events. While this organization will be useful in terms of knowledge sharing and contacts, however, its members have only limited interest and expertise regarding international development assistance grants and fundraising.  They do not have social media presence apart from their web site.

Another group in which I already participate is the informal group of retired Canadian International Development Agency officers who get together several times a year in Ottawa/Gatineau, primarily on a social basis. Important contacts can be made in terms of idea sharing and potential CESO assignments.  Indeed, one of my former CIDA colleagues did recommend to CESO that I be engaged for a specific assignment, to which I was appointed.  This group has no formal social media presence,

I did visit and ask questions of many of the tools referenced in the course material for Lesson #2, (including Twitter, Pinterest and Quora).  Unfortunately, I was unable to access much information or material related to the international development assistance grant and fundraising community.

From my previous experience, however, I am aware of various traditional on-line websites which relate to granting (e.g. www.GrantSpace.Org, and  While these sites are often good for learning of domestic and international grant opportunities, they normally do not provide a forum for exchange of information among professionals on individual or donor practices, for example, which I seek.   One possible exception is the European Foundation Centre’s ( Peer Learning and Exchange program.  At this point, however, the forum is open only to CEOs of select agencies for discussing issues of strategic rather than practical interest.

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Sites such as  and provide grass-roots NGOs access to (often) free communications vehicles and networks to mobilize existing communities to provide small individual donations from people supporting their causes and spread their message (Course materials, Lesson #4).  The simplicity of the approach largely obviates the need for dedicated grant managers to laboriously apply for and administer grants.  On the downside, few of these crowdfunding sites specialize in international development assistance, focussing instead on market development of trendy new products, for example.   And the amount raised is often less than international non-profits require to sustain their operations and programs.  But they are worth pursuing.

Also, of interest is the ability of organizations to raise large amounts of money from individual in response to disasters through one click SMS micro-donations as opposed to using the web or e-mail channels.  The ease of the donations process is key.  As proponents indicate, “Two clicks are one click too much” (

The technology in this area is constantly evolving, due largely to the efforts of the non-profit and wireless communities.  In this regard, the mission of the agnostic public charity The mGive Foundation (TMF) is to foster “social advancement by enabling an environment for mobile technology to create efficiencies, accountability and communications.” (

SMS micro-donations are very appealing, and I will explore these more in my own activities.   The free promotion of these campaigns by athletes of other celebrities make this approach attractive.  Two downsides include the relatively small size of donation and the fact that they are more likely attractive in the event of a short-term and evocative humanitarian crisis rather than a longer-term development effort.

Rewards and Risks

The potential rewards of the proposed efforts described above will be many, and not limited to:

  1. A steady stream of ideal clients
  2. Rewarding partnerships
  3. Leadership opportunities
  4. Greater mindshare
  5. Association with a market niche
  6. Greater credibility
  7. Recognition and prestige; (and)
  8. Higher perceived value (from Lee as per above).

In my case, I can see such rewards being readily achievable, particularly if I employ an effective personal branding strategy as outlined.

There are, however, risks to the use of social media and the personal brand which may have taken a long time to nurture.  These are well-discussed in the course and I will cover only a few, as elucidated by Miriam Slozberg in The 7 Risks of Social Media ( and in George Day, The Benefit and Risks of Social Media Marketing (

These risks include the possibility of posting something inappropriate on your various platforms, particularly the ones sometimes considered more personal such as Facebook.  There is no such thing as real privacy anymore.  This point relates to the need to maintain consistency across all channels and platforms, as indicated on page 2 above.  Secondly, one should avoid over-promoting.  Focus first on “developing a good online presence and good relationships, then your business” (Slozberg, para 4).

Thirdly, I would do well to post and tweet on a regular and appropriate basis (and respond in a timely fashion) to maintain my profile and monitor who is accessing my activities. I should not over post and clog up recipients’ feeds (Slozberg, para 5).  Finally, I should not pick a fight with anyone on social networks!  There is a difference between respectful disagreement and those who are maliciously choosing a fight (Slozberg, para 8).  These cautions speak to the need for effective “reputation management” (Course Notes, Lesson #4).


I will pursue my stated objectives as I develop my personal brand as an IDGFC, a field  for which I am well suited.  I will need to hone my newly acquired social media skills and engage with appropriate platforms and vehicles such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Kickstarter and SMS micro-donations.   These actions will not preclude my participation in more traditional groups such as CAID.  I believe that the rewards of my actions will outweigh the risks if I adopt an effective personal branding strategy and manage my reputation appropriately.

Do social media enable political movements or hinder their formation?

This is an important question given the increased and evolving uses of social media in political developments around the world. These include the fomenting and reporting on unrest during the Arab Spring, continuing demands by bloggers for human rights in China and the ongoing demonization of minorities in Myanmar by the Buddhist majority.

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Egypt 2011 (UIUC Library Guides)

We might also ask whether social media are inherently democratizing or whether they serve the interests of state organizations, dictatorships and intelligence agencies?  Or do they boost politicians in liberal democracies who feed off conspiracy and nativism?

A simple answer or sitting on the fence

Image result for photo of trumpPresidential Assent  (The Blaze)


These questions have sparked considerable debate and almost everyone has an opinion.  Image result for photo of debateThe truth is probably that there is credible evidence on both sides of the debate on the effect of social media on political movements and the answer will only be determined by assessing different cases and examining the circumstances. We might conclude that while social media can enable alternative ways of doing things, they may also reinforce pre-existing norms, values and institutions.

Why should we care?

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These issues are of immediate interest to many of us.

Firstly, as citizens of Canada, what impact might social media have on the 2019 general election?  Should we be devising  and enforcing various regulations related to the use of bots, for example, as they might be used to automatically post inflammatory or nonsensical posts, disrupting political discourse while promoting populist views?

As global citizens, examination of these issues provides a very helpful window through which to interpret developments and reach conclusions.  How much was Donald Trump able to influence the outcome of the last federal election by constantly framing the debate, then reinforcing opinions by his constant references to “crooked Hillary” and “fake news” in the social media?

As travellers to out-of-the-way destinations, referral to social media posts would help to determine whether to visit or depart from a country undergoing social/political unrest.  This is potentially a very useful application as Global Affairs Canada Travel Advisories are often so alarmist that travellers would be reluctant to leave home at all!

Kidnapping, extortion, home invasion, robbery, sexual assault and other forms of aggravated assault are carried out by criminals acting individually or as a group. Assault, armed robbery and carjacking are serious problems … A large percentage of the population … is armed…  Guns and other weapons, such as machetes and knives, are frequently used. If you are threatened by robbers, do not resist; injuries and deaths have occurred when victims have resisted. (2017)

Finally, those of us who work as volunteers in developing countries, assisting non-profit organizations seeking funding, a balanced assessment of differing perspectives on the security and political realities would help us (and, ultimately, potential donors) determine whether conditions in a specified country are conductive to delivering aid at all.

Image result for development assistance photoCanada’s New Feminist Development Assistance Policy in Action (Macleans)







A call to action!

What do you think?  Should we be concerned about the role of social media in influencing international developments?  Are they forces for good or bad?  Do social media cause division or amplify it?  Depending on your answer to these questions, give some thought as to what each of us can do to help remedy some of the misuses of social media. Get in touch!