The Ethical Implications of Mobile Giving

The Ethical Implications of Mobile Giving

American philanthropy is one of the crowning glories of the United States. Countries around the globe aim to model systems of giving that have proven to be effective. With those successful models come many ethical standards that have been adopted by charities and foundations. The growing use of technology is changing the face of fundraising, but the ethics that guide philanthropy, allow little room for amendment. Most organizations would agree that full disclosure to a donor regarding his charitable gift is not a courtesy but a requirement. Full disclosure is explained in the 13th and 14th requirements for members, like the American Red Cross who wish to be affiliated with the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

“13. Members shall take care to ensure that donors receive informed, accurate and ethical advice about the value and tax implications of contributions.

14. Members shall take care to ensure that contributions are used in accordance with donors’ intentions.”

This is a part of the ethical responsibility shouldered by American philanthropy – to remain transparent with donors about how their money is to be collected, distributed within the organization, and utilized towards the cause they have chosen to support.

The recent peak of interest in mobile giving requires a closer look at the ethical implications that follow. When the American Red Cross called supporters to action through their (missing date or further context) text message campaign, people were quick to start giving through their cellular phones, over 700,000 people to be more precise. The campaign was advertised as a 100% gift to the American Red Cross from each $5 and $10 donation made via text message. For the skeptics, and interested, the organization has dedicated a page on its website to mobile giving. Donors are briefly educated on the concept of mobile giving and then directed to a website for the mGive Foundation.

Upon reading the fine print at the mGive Foundation, donors learn that the mGive Foundation works with, a for-profit company that manages the technologies for mobile giving. is the service provider and the mGive Foundation is its registered 501c3 not-for-profit that collects the money. When a person makes a text donation to the American Red Cross their money is sent to their wireless service provider who forwards it to the mGive Foundation, who pays for their services, and send the remainder to the charity. The wireless provider charges a fee that is included in the amount dispersed from the mGive Foundation to

There are many charities in the United States, and as such there are many text message fundraising service providers who work in collaboration with foundations. For example, on a $10 donation, the foundation working with the text message service provider generally charges a 2.5% fee. In addition, the text message service provider then charges 8% of the remaining $9.74 to cover wireless network provider costs and their own administrative fees. The charity is left with an $8.00 donation.

Unexplained details compromise donor intent. If a donor were to send the organization a check for $10, more of their money would go to the cause, but because urgency outweighs importance that component is overlooked. Fundraisers are shifting their priorities from full disclosure to urgency when they implement a mobile giving plan. They are choosing financial gain over what is ethically responsible.

Mobile giving has become a part of the future of philanthropy, but our commitment to ethical responsibility must not be compromised for the sake of the convenience it provides. Fundraising is both a service and an art; while organizations have financial goals and needs, there are also boundaries to respect in order to preserve the integrity of philanthropy. Everyday the media gives us one more reason to believe that there is no integrity left in this world, if we are not mindful of disclosing whole truths behind fundraising practices to our donors, then our profession will face one more ethical accusation than it needs.


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