On August 21st, President Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina sent the first-ever text message donation to a presidential campaign–a whopping $10.  While the Obama campaign is no stranger to six-figure contributions, it hopes this development will encourage small donors to give “whatever they can afford.” This innovative use of technology is designed to reignite the grassroots spirit that propelled President Obama to the White House in the first place.  It is meant to show that sometimes the actual contribution amount is moot–what matters is giving people a stake in the game.

Still, though the Obama campaign was the first to go live with its system, it does not deserve sole credit for pioneering the idea.  In fact, the American Red Cross and other charities have long used text message donations as an effective fundraising tool–donations tend to be impulsive, and a text message simplifies the process.

Moreover, the plan to use text message contributions in the presidential campaign has widespread bipartisan support.  Both Republican and Democratic political consulting firms submitted proposals to the Federal Election Commission, and the Romney campaign plans to a launch a similar system to Obama’s.

It remains to be seen whether this change will have any substantial effect on compaign giving, and whether it was wise to involve third-party wireless carriers in the world of campaign contributions.  For example, it is unclear how much they will charge for collecting the donations by text.  Furthermore, wireless providers have already asked the FEC for the flexibility to reject working some campaigns they deemed too controversial.

Nevertheless, despite some uncertainty as to how this will play out, this is still a brilliant nod to the small donor.  To some, like yours truly, $10 is an actual fortune, a world of possibilities.  Long ago, when I was actually paid to do things, my work day was divided into $10 increments–with every hour that ticked by, I was $10 richer.  $10 is something of value to me, as it is to most Americans, so when I donate even that small amount, it means something.  It means that I am committed, that I have a stake in the outcome, that I will show up for my team on Election Day–and that is what the candidates ultimately need.

Now, if only you could vote via text message.

–Joanna Collins

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One Response to O-B-A-M-A Campaign – First to Accept Text Message Donations

  1. Erin Frankrone says:

    This is also the new frontier of impulse buying. I agree that organizations, political and otherwise, will see some advantages to harnassing emotional reactions and convert them to donations. A particarly touching or incendiary political commerical has the additional “benefit” of triggering knee-jerk donations from the masses who have their phone on hand.

    On one hand, this seems like another form of financial managment that is following the growing and empowering trend of mobile banking. On the other hand, the impulsiveness that text donations engender could be a real financial threat to its target market. As the author correctly noted, even the smallest amounts can be comparative fortunes to the likely users of text donations. I wonder if this relative importance of nominally small donations will cause text donors to seek more information about how their collective text donations are being spent, similar to the way larger donors can condition their giving. But since the impulsiveness is the appeal of the mechanism, I assume not.