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Vol. 40, No. 6

Optimize it: Bar associations, foundations encourage mobile giving

Dan Kittay

With the majority of web traffic now coming from mobile devices, bar associations and foundations have been working to make their websites optimized for mobile devices, and in some cases developing mobile apps to highlight content.

Add to the mix mobile-friendly websites and apps that make it easy for members and others to contribute to foundations and other causes.

"[M]obile giving increased 45 percent from the 2014 giving season to the 2015 season," says Brandon Granger, a senior interaction designer at Blackbaud, which conducted a study of mobile giving to 1,193 small and medium-sized organizations. Granger made his comments in a blog post.

New websites and apps that can manage or help bars manage fundraising campaigns or events continue to appear, and some early adopter bars have dipped their toes in.

BASF adds excitement, convenience to its gala

One such association is the Bar Association of San Francisco. BASF has an annual gala that it uses to fund much of the work of its Justice & Diversity Center, says Steve Love, development consultant. Donations to a silent auction, which is a feature of the gala, had been declining in recent years, Love says.

Executive Director Yolanda Jackson had attended a conference where there was a "text-to-give" option, and the results of donations were displayed in real time. Jackson wanted BASF to try a similar approach at the gala.

Love and BASF Creative Manager Kerstin Fermin researched the available companies that could handle the interactive approach, including MobileCause, which had created the campaign that gave Jackson the idea. The bar ultimately hired MobileCause.

"We especially liked the interactivity, and the fact that you could make a pledge on the spot in a matter of seconds, and then MobileCause would then do the follow-up," Fermin explains, adding that if someone makes a pledge and then forgets about it later, they receive reminder emails.

For the gala, BASF used the text-to-give option. Those who texted a code were shown a short form on their phones to be able to list their name and pledge amount, along with a brief comment to accompany the display of their name and donation. There was also a link to a site to fill in their full contact and payment information.

As part of the package the bar purchased, BASF also got to create a mobile-optimized website by adding text to a supplied template. The site can be used for donations at any time. Previously, the donation portion of the BASF website had not been mobile-optimized, Fermin says.

"We noticed that when we sent out emails trying to encourage people to donate, more than 30 percent of people opened the emails on their smart phones," she recalls. "When they clicked through and encountered a non-mobile-friendly donate page, a lot of people just clicked away and didn't do anything."

MobileCause also provided a mobile-optimized donation form that BASF could embed into its website. The bar installed it into a blog it set up for the gala, and directed people to it. "It brought in almost $17,000," Fermin notes.

With either the text-to-give or mobile-optimized approach, BASF receives reporting on who pledged, and who has paid.

While the technology itself facilitates receiving and processing donations, there are human elements involved in the success of a campaign, Love says. At the gala, BASF had a large screen set up that showed an interactive "thermometer" that measured the total amount of donations, and also displayed the names and comments of recent donors.

"It helps to get everyone fired up," he believes. BASF also had an energetic MC who encouraged the crowd and kept them in good spirits, Fermin added. "He was wearing a wild shirt … by the end, in the space where donors could enter comments about their donations, they were saying things like 'Nice shirt.'"

'How can we rope in the younger attorneys?'

On the other side of the country, the New York State Bar Association's charitable arm, The New York Bar Foundation, was looking to launch a campaign to raise funds for its donation programs. "Like most bar foundations, we use very traditional methods of fundraising, and we raise a fair amount of money that way, says John Gross, TNYBF president. "With the influx of technology, we started to think about,  How can we rope in the younger attorneys who thrive on technology?"

Gross attended a National Conference of Bar Foundations meeting at which one of the speakers was a representative from Swell Fundraising. Impressed with the presentation, Gross followed up with the company. TNYBF eventually signed a contract with Swell to handle a campaign that was timed to NYSBA's Annual Meeting in January.

TNYBF members gave a short presentation at the start of each CLE program and distributed cards with information about the campaign, and an invitation to "Pull out your phone or laptop" and go to the provided URL to make a donation. They also showed a short video that featured interviews with recipients of foundation grants.

Swell set up a mobile-optimized website for the campaign. The site includes a description of the foundation and its efforts, and also shows the amount of money raised to date. A "Give Now" button is displayed prominently on the screen.

TNYBF hopes adding the new technology will supplement the money it receives through more traditional means, such as checks. The requests from outside groups for grants exceed what the foundation can afford to give each year, so any approach that helps fill the coffers is welcome, Gross says.

Rise in mobile giving doesn't mean rise in total giving

Swell, MobileCause and other companies in this space generally operate either by taking a portion of each transaction for processing, charging a licensing fee, or both. Both companies see the rise of mobile giving as a significant factor in the world of donations.

"Millennials and Gen Xers make up 51 percent of the workforce," says Paul Dutch, an account executive at MobileCause. "These two segments communicate in two ways: social media and texting." Adapting donation solicitations to technologies that interact well with those methods makes the most sense, Dutch says.

"I see it as part of the overall shift to online giving," says Brooke Battle, Swell's founder. As consumers, we have come to expect services to be available online, she says, because it's generally faster and more efficient to handle matters that way. There is also the demographics factor that Gross referred to: "As a new generation of donors emerges, they are best reached online."

While the amount of online donation is increasing, the amount of overall donation is not, Battle notes. "There is some concern that [younger donors] are less generous with resources, and more generous with time. The way they want to be engaged with a nonprofit is different from the way their parents want to be engaged." A possible hopeful sign for the future is that the younger generation will eventually be part of the "greatest shift in wealth in our history," when their parents' resources are passed along.

Other foundations optimizing, considering new tools

Other bar foundations have been looking to get involved in soliciting donations through mobile technology. The North Carolina Bar Association Foundation has converted its website, which it shares with the NCBA, to be mobile optimized, so those using mobile devices can more easily donate, says Tom Hull, director of development for the foundation.

The same is true in Virginia, where the Virginia Law Foundation recently optimized its site, says Ray White, executive director of the foundation. Both White and Hull said they would consider using a mobile donation service in future campaigns.