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You can already collect mobile donations via an SMS text donation campaign through companies like mGive or MobileCause. However, these services are relatively expensive and aren’t suitable for smaller fundraising campaigns, or drives that need to be organized and executed quickly. It’s also hard to collect donor data and impossible to enable recurring gifts.

If you’re interested in harnessing mobile donations for your future fundraising campaigns, without the disadvantages of text donations, keep an eye on the new mobile payment services springing up.

(Maybe we will finally see dedicated donations apps in the iTunes store.)

What’s different about these ‘mobile wallet’ services is that payments aren’t collected by the cell phone service provider (like SMS payments), but through a credit card or bank account.

Even though it hasn’t been explicitly mentioned that these new services will be tailored for donations, we assume that because they’re all based on using consumers’ existing accounts for payment, like any other online payment service, they will also be available and optimized for collecting donations.

Advantages of mobile donations vs. giving via a PC

So what’s the big deal about being able to donate via mobile phones and other mobile devices? Considering, that more people are now accessing the internet via mobile device than desktop computer, and that more people than ever are accessing their banking information from a mobile device, it only makes sense to collect donations through mobile devices as well.

Another advantage is that you can harness the spontaneity of your supporters: let’s say you’re sending an email which your supporter then receives on his or her cell phone; or potential supporters see your information in a newspaper or on TV.

Instead of having to click over to a website to fill out a standard form that requires name, address, phone number, pulling out a credit card and so on, your supporter will be able to simply enter a password to complete his or her donation.

If your supporter had to fill out the form, they may have just given up right there. Have you ever tried to fill out a form on the small screen on your smart phone? It’s cumbersome to say the least. Or you may have decided to wait to get home to fill it out on your computer screen, but chances are, by the time you got home you have forgotten about the donation, or simply lost motivation.

mobile donation

Disadvantages of mobile payment services

The main disadvantage of any of the mobile wallet services is that each party using it has to have an account in order to streamline the payment process. This means that if a person isn’t signed up for the payment service you’re using, they’ll still have to go through the laborious process of setting up an account first, or filling out a regular form.

The solution may be to sign up with more than one of these services, but are we really ready and willing to add yet more additional accounts to our current line up of financial services?

Another issue may be that apparently many retailers are working on providing their own mobile wallet services. If you have dozens of new services flooding the market place it may be impossible for anyone to conduct any campaign efficiently, because consumers may be confused and will then sign up with few services or not at all.

Mobile payments can be somewhat compared with credit cards: there are cards from many banks branded with the main services like Visa, Mastercard and American Express and then there are all the store cards. Most people now have at least one of the main credit cards and some store credit cards.

Maybe it will work out similar for mobile payments where many people will eventually be signed up with at least one of the large credit card companies.

Worst case scenario could be that all the mobile services create so much confusion among consumers, or apathy because they’re expected to keep track of yet another account, that they will simply forgo or at least postpone signing up for any mobile payment service. Also, if there are any major security issues, consumers will stick with the payment and donation solutions already available to them.

Options for mobile donations

Any online or app based payment services can be used for mobile payments (provided retailers are set up for mobile payments), but it’s the services that are the easiest to use that will eventually win out and result in completed mobile transactions and mobile donations. Note that all services offer peer-to-peer (P2P) payments for free or a very low fee.

Mobile payment services already available or becoming available soon:

PayPal. If you’re group is already using PayPal, you may like the fact they provide an express checkout service that can be optimized for mobile devices. All your supporters have to do is click on the ‘PayPal’ button on your mobile site or app, log in, review the details and click ‘pay.’ Since PayPal is a popular payment service, a lot of people will already have an account. PayPal offers their P2P service on Facebook.

Until recently PayPal had information about a dedicated mobile checkout service on their website, but the information has since disappeared and interested parties are encouraged to contact PayPal’s customer service, or search for “mobile checkout” on their website. Their new digital wallet service which promises more features than other digital wallet services, incl. a grace period that lets you change how and when you pay for something, and paying with loyalty points and airline miles, is supposed to go live in May of 2012.

Paying with loyalty points and frequent flier miles? How great would this be if you could ask your supporters to simply donate airline miles which would automatically convert into $$ for your group! Can you tell we’re excited about these new options!

Dwolla – Another payment option similar to PayPal. Dwolla calls themselves a ‘cash based payment network’ that allows payment through major credit cards like Visa and Mastercard, and also peer-to-peer payments like the other services.

Their fees are lower than PayPal’s and you can pay your followers or friends through social media accounts like Twitter or Facebook. Like some other payment services, you don’t need to connect your account to a bank account, unless you want to add money to your own account to pay others.

American Express Serve. Serve is another digital wallet platform for sending and receiving money, plus they offer a widget for accepting and tracking donations. Serve can also be used for making payments via email or their app. In order to send or receive payments, each user must have a registered Serve account.

Google WalletFor in-store and online checkout is currently available only on Android phones sold by Sprint and you have to have a PayPass MasterCard or Google PrePaid card to use it. MasterCard has been partnering with other companies around the world to develop and expand their mobile payments options.

The Google Wallet mobile app stores your payment information and you can use it to check out at online or brick and mortar merchants who accept Google Wallet. Online you have to sign in to your account, at a physical location you can simply tap your phone to a terminal to make a payment with over-the-air technology.

V.me – Visa’s new payment solution V.me will include optimized options for mobile payments, which are expected to become available in 2012. It will allow customers to fund their account with any major credit card or their bank account and make peer-to-peer payments. Much like PayPal, customers will also use a single account to checkout at any place that accepts V.me.

Mobile point-of-sale services

Gone are the days when you had to lug around a credit card terminal that needs internet access and had to be connected to a PC: you can now simply swipe credit cards through a reader that’s connected to your smart phone. If your fundraising activities include direct sales, one of these new devices may be incredibly useful to you. Not only do people spend more when they pay per credit card, but you will be able to sell to more supporters that way.

Popular mobile credit card readers are Square and GoPayment reader by Intuit which lets you keep and receive funds on a prepaid credit card; bank account optional. The readers are available for the most popular smart phones like iPhone and Android. There is also one service that simply lets you scan a credit card without any additional hardware, Card.io. The apps for the services are free and you only pay a fee per transaction (similar to PayPal).

Mobile Safety

To learn more about mobile phone safety, click over to SaferMobile.com, a project of MobileActive.org, the non-profit that provides “resources on the use of mobile technologies for social impact.”

Learn more about mobile payments services

Confused about all the options and possibilities? You’re not alone. With new mobile services being offered every month and new technology being created at a break-neck speed it’s no wonder we’re all scrambling to wrap our heads around them. But mobile payments are here to stay and the good news about this is that mobile donations will be more affordable for non-profits and more streamlined.

The best way to learn about the new mobile services is to embrace them and try them out:

When your bank or credit card company sends info about their mobile payment service: sign up and try it out. Make a payment, ask for payment from someone you know who signed up for the same service and you’ll see how it really works and if it would make sense to integrate it into your fundraising campaigns.

Shop at a store that uses mobile payment technologies: many brick and mortar stores are using the new mobile card readers instead of terminals. (We’ve seen them in Apple stores and coffee shops.) Ask questions and make a purchase.

Sign up for retailers’ mobile payment services: Do you have a Starbucks card? You can download their free app, pay with your mobile phone in their stores and leave your card at home. View how the new Starbucks Card mobile app works at mFoundry.com, a popular mobile payment platform for banks and companies.

Watch for political fundraising campaigns: There is currently no information on how much political campaigns are taking in through mobile donations. But considering that the trend of using cell phones for checking email and browsing the web is still going up, you bet that political campaign fundraisers will always be looking for the newest and best technology to harness their supporters’ giving power.

Since text donations are currently not allowed for political campaigns – it’s impossible to adhere to federal disclosure laws – they have great motivation to be creative in using other mobile payment technology.

(Update: After much bipartisan lobbying, text donations are now legal for political campaigns.)

What are your experiences with mobile payment and donation services? Please share in the comments if and what mobile payment services you’ve tried and how they worked for you!

(Image: iStockphoto/mipan)

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