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Nonprofit NFTE drives text donations via ten-digit number

April 30, 2010

The NFTE rewrites the mobile giving playbook

The NFTE rewrites the mobile giving playbook

The annual Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship “Dare to Dream” gala ran a mobile giving initiative in a rather unorthodox manner.

NFTE, a nonprofit organization that teaches kids how to run profitable businesses, decided to do an end-run around the traditional text a keyword to a short code playbook, and was able to garner donations well above the $5 or $10 limits of by-the-book mobile giving campaigns.

“NFTE did something so simple at this event with a mobile giving campaign, it’s absolutely genius,” said Daniel Ruben Odio-Paez, cofounder and chief operating officer of, Washington, in a blog post. “I don’t think most people in attendance caught it, or the significance of what NFTE did.

“As anyone who’s ever tried to run a mobile giving campaign and secure a short code knows, setting up a text-to-give program can be difficult, lengthy and costly, to say the least,” he said. “There are some platforms out there like Mobile Commons that make it easier, but still, it’s a process to set a mobile giving system up, which makes it prohibitive to do for a single event.

“One has to really commit to the process and treat it like a campaign.”

NFTE figured out how to do it for zero cost, and it can be set up literally in under an hour, according to Mr. Odio-Paez.

For the call-to-action, NFTE put a mobile phone number up on a big screen to receive pledges.

“The first thing you’ll notice is that this is not a short code such as 2653 for COKE or 62262 for ‘Obama’—instead, it’s a regular phone number,” Mr. Odio-Paez said. “What NFTE did is so simple, it’s genius.

“They just used a regular phone number and asked people to text in pledges to that number,” he said. “You could even use your own cell phone number to set this up.”

Then, NFTE transcribed those text messages on to the big screen, either manually or by copying and pasting.

This way, NFTE had an immediate way to recognize the people who were texting in donations, in real time, thereby driving a cycle of giving among the audience.

So, then, how does NFTE actually get the pledge?

“My guess is they simply call the phone number that sent the text message the next day and ask for it,” Mr. Odio-Paez said.

“Just have one or two volunteers call everyone who texted that number and say ‘We’d like to collect your pledge from last night—can you please give me a credit card number?’ or [something] similar,” he said. “This part is just speculation.”

Still, the response to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile demonstrated the power of SMS and common short codes to mobilize consumers with little notice to donate to disaster relief efforts in the wake of the Haiti earthquakes.

Many believe that every charity organization should have its own short code for running mobile giving campaigns (see story).

In the United States, Neustar operates the Common Short Codes Administration on behalf of CTIA.

However, NFTE demonstrated a way to test out mobile giving in a one-off manner without committing to a $500 or $1,000 monthly fee.

“In the industry, we’ve all been trying to figure out how to make the short code process simpler and cheaper, and NFTE came in with a solution,” Mr. Odio-Paez said. “In fairness to the short code industry, this approach doesn’t scale—it would be very hard to do a nationwide ‘Donate to HAITI relief’ type campaign this way.

“But then again, who knows?” he said. “And it’s a great way to test mobile giving in a real-time environment without having to set up any infrastructure.”

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Dan Butcher is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach him at

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