By Erin Shaver, JVA Associate

Not sure how many of you watch “American Idol” out there, but we’re guessing from the show’s ratings it may be quite a few. Because we have some watchers here at JVA, we know that the pop culture phenomenon is airing its second annual “Idol Gives Back” program April 9.

Sure, it can be overhyped and somewhat self-congratulatory, but last year, “Idol” raised over $76 million for charity. This year, producers are hoping for an even bigger payout, announcing such stars as Bono, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Peyton and Eli Manning, and this year’s presidential candidates to support six major nonprofits: the Children’s Defense Fund; The Global Fund; Make It Right; Malaria No More; Save The Children, U.S. Programs; and the Children’s Health Fund.

Regardless of whether you are amused by Simon Cowell’s insults or even know who won last season, one must take heed on both the sheer dollars raised from these types of events and the significant awareness it brings these charities to be in front of hundreds of millions of people in a slick Hollywood production.

In fact, using major pop culture events—especially youth-oriented ones like “Idol”—to raise money for good causes seems to be a pretty successful and recent trend. In February, Denver-based Mobile Accord helped the United Way launch the first text-to-give commercial spot in the U.S. during the Super Bowl, raising $30,000 for United Way’s youth fitness programs in only 10 seconds from $5 text message gifts. Mobile Accord thinks that mobile giving is the next big wave for nonprofits; kind of the way having a Web site and with an online giving system has become the standard over the last five to 10 years.

We attended a recent Black Tie Colorado event in which Mobile Accord, a past client of JVA’s, presented its massive launch plan to bring mobile giving to all nonprofits, with local Colorado organizations on the cutting edge. In mid-May 2008, it plans to launch a Web site to make its mobile giving service available to all nonprofits—NPOs can sign up, pay a one-time activation fee, select their code (like a url) and, after being approved as an eligible 501(c)(3), can start the service. Mobile Accord’s new Web site will track activity and issue reports on its text donation activity, its foundation arm will issue the funds on a monthly basis, and, best of all, it says that all wireless carriers are on board and have agreed not to take a penny from the donation (Mobile Accord takes a 10% commission).

While it may not be great for every organization, those that plan big events would be prime candidates to use the service to get the most out of the spontaneous, impulsive give that can often happen when endorphins are running high and everyone feels rallied around a cause. While “Idol Gives Back,” being a TV show, can capitalize on these moments of emotion and connection more easily (phone lines and Internet are usually at viewers’ easy disposal), the text-to-give idea seems like an interesting proposition for NPOs that host charitable festivals, concerts or races, where an attendee’s moment of passionate altruism may or may not carry over into a donation when he or she gets home to his/her computer or checkbook.

Nonprofits are already turning more and more to social networking sites to publicize their cause through Facebook’s Causes application and MySpace’s Impact application (“Idol’s” MySpace url is While to some degree they are relinquishing control over the messaging (and it’s unclear how much of an increase in donations they receive as a result), they are able to get their name and cause in front of more people (mostly young) through the viral spread of social networking without a lot of resources expended. Text-to-give takes it one step further; not only using the tools of young people to get their organization out there, but also to receive the benefit of a new donor.

So we’ll probably be watching “Idol Gives Back” this week, and likewise we will keep our eye on Mobile Accord’s new plans. Every generation has its own giving strategy, and we know from many studies that young people already prefer to give online over more traditional means.

With the popularity of reality shows, social networking and text messaging seeming here to stay for the younger set, at least for a while, star-studded and slickly produced events like “Idol Gives Back” and the successes of big Super Bowl-sized text-to-give campaigns cannot be ignored. The trends will trickle down to the smaller folks, and in mobile giving’s case, may already be taking off in Colorado in just a few short months

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