Last night I went to an event organised by 160characters and the Mobile Entertainment Forum called Sending Out an SMS: Charities Prepare To Go Mobile.

Although charities have been slow to pick up the potential offered by mobile the barriers to adoption are crumbling. With a growing number and range of successful case studies, the removal of VAT on donations by mobile (see charitytext.org) and with the almost total ubiquity of mobile phones, charities need to take a close look at how to make the best of mobile.

This was an especially interesting event, given the news that O2 announced this week, where charities of all sizes will now be able to receive an estimated extra 10p in the pound for text donations of up to £10 made via dedicated 70 prefix short codes.

The speakers on the night were:

  • Mike Short – Chairman, Mobile Data Association and VP, O2
  • Robert Thurner – Commercial Director, Incentivated
  • Andrew Jackson – Head of Client Services, Mobile Interactive Technology (MIT)
  • Joe Saxton – founder and driver of ideas at nfpSynergy will talk about ‘Why charities are a great business opportunity for the mobile industry’. Joe is author of the report published in July ‘Sending out an SMS‘.

Organisations present on the night included:

Charities Aid Foundation, Bright One, Amnesty International, Long Reach Mobile, mBlox,MX Telecom, Mobile Entertainment Forum, ITN ON, Vertu, Phonepay Plus, Pay By Mobile,BBC, Water Aid, PayPal, Shelter, Mobile Data Association, O2, Mobile Interactive Technology, Incentivated and nfpSynergy.

Here’s my notes from each of the speeches:

Mike Short – Chairman, Mobile Data Association and VP, O2

There was no interoperability of texting until 1998 and the UK didn’t have shortcodes or cross industry promotion until the early 90s. In 1999, 1 billion text messages were sent in the UK, which rose to 78 Billions texts sent in the UK in 1998. The MDA is expecting more than 2 Billion a week in the UK to be recorded this year, which adds up to over 100 million.

Why haven’t charities benefiited from this uptake? It’s been to do with the mobile industry, the Inland Revenue, and gtting the right processes in place. But now we have the 70 shortcode initative, all operators should fall in line and IR treat everyone equally, with no VAT taken.

Text donations are encouraged by strong national campaigns. For example, with the Tsunami Relief campaign, over 1 million text donations were sent within days. Similar take up has been seen with the  Bhurma Relief and Children in Need campaigns,

O2 recently announced their changes to text giving, with 90p out of every £1 going to the charity. This is not 100% as there are operator costs, such as antifraud, network, and anti-competitive procedures.

Will other operators do the same? With 83 million subscriptions in the UK today, it’s wrong that we’re not giving more to charities by the most efficient way, e.g. text. We now have a mechanism, but we’ve got to do it right

Andrew Jackson – Head of Client Services, Mobile Interactive Technology (MIT)

MIT were involved with March’s Comic Relief campaign, which saw 7.8 million rasied through text donation. Lots of people were happy to donate £5 by text, as this is a nice sum of money. They wouldn’t do this before as they were ashamed to call the phone line and to say down the phone “I’d like to donate £5″. This is seen as too little.

Text giving has taken off because it is anonymous, you can give small amounts , and it is a simple process. texting is simple, easy, quick, second nature, which makes it ideal for a youth audience. For example, during Comic Relief, Radio 1 encouraged £1 donation and made it a fun thing to do.

This kind of take up only really happens for 2/3 big events a year, such as  Comic Relief orChildren In Need. What workes well is giving tangible items that donations will pay for, e.g. a £5 donation will pay for a mosquito net. Charities need to think about what tangible items can people say they have bought through a £5 donation?

Some further tips:

  • Select a demographic clearly, e.g. youth audience
  • Be flexible and give resource to promotion
  • Take the advice of the mobile partners you choose
  • Create a WAP site bounce back to donors, encouraging them to sign up via Gift Aid

Robert Thurner – Commercial Director, Incentivated:

The one key driver behind the growth of the mobile industry has been text, which is still growing by over 30% a year. On the consumer side, there are better handsets, flat rate data plans and better content (e.g. social networks).

But what’s holding up charitable giving via text? Firstly, the money that is going to the Inland Revenue rather tha the charity. Secondly, education and awareness on ways to donate, and explaining how it works with other parts of the campaign. Lastly, engagement – what’s the difference the text donation makes?

Charities need good CRM systems, so they can see exactly how donors have responded, then et up bespoke campaigns around this, e.g. thanks for donation, invites to volunteering and events, return donations. Measurement and ROI is also important and should work with CRM databases to undertand other parts of the campaign  mix and add mobile data to this. This gives proof that text donation works and charities can check how effective mobile is compared to other channels. For example, during a recent Macmillan Campaign, 60% of donations came via text, 30% via their call centre, and 10% via post.

Charities also need to think about where they are looking to use text – volunteers, donations, thank you messages, awareness, mobile sites?

Gift Aid is powerful media ally and text is a good tool for internal Comms, a  good way of getting back to people on a regular basis.

MIT also offered charities a free text shortcode, domain and campaign management campaign, so get in touch with them to find out more.

Joe Saxton – founder and driver of ideas at nfpSynergy:

Joe is the author of the ‘Sending Out an SMS’ report, which is available from nfpSynergy. To get an increased take up in text donations, we need case studies, such as Comic Relief, and a need to work on getting charges lower. We’ve made progress, as just 1 year ago of every £1.50 donation only 95p went to charity. Now it’s even better, with O2 announcing that 90p out of every pound donated via text goes to the charity.

The mobile industry should develop a win:win situation with charities. Younger donors are giving in a way they’ve never given before, which means that the mobile industry can get more people giving more money earlier on. But price points have been putting off charities.

Marathons are a fantastic opportunity for text donations. Runners could print shortcodes on their t-shirts. This spontaneity and opportunism can raise £100 million more if implemented next year in time for the London Marathon and is well achievable within 5 year time span

Charities need to get act together though, as lots don’t keep numbers or records or text donors. They need to get other operators to follow O2′s suit and need to get automatic Gift Aid via text bounce back. Currently most charges apply VAT, but as financial transactions don’t attract VAT, neither should text donations. If it just money changing hands, e.g. donation, VAT should be 0%.

It needs to be sustainb;e though, as charities can’t expect operators big or small give special deals. Giving by mobile phone should be integral part of people’s lives, so how can we get more peeple giving more money in more ways than ever before?

There is a real opportunity through a win:win situation – operators, agreggators and charities can all make money through text donations.

My Overall Comments

  • Strong, short speeches
  • Varied topic matter but common themes
  • Needs to be sustainable, e.g. charges / revenue opportunities attractive for operators, agreggators and charities
  • Good Q&A debate around rise of apps, integration of mobile into campaigns, fears around safety and added charges

Have you ever donated to a charity via text? If you are a charity, do you receive text donations? If you don’t, will you set up a short code using the new 70 shortcode  service?

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