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Text giving is set to give Aussie charities a boost

Rock legend Bono does it. Former US President Barack Obama did it. Oxfam and UNICEF definitely still do it. And many other charities across the world and now here in Australia are tapping into one of the newest fundraising channels: text giving.

The immediacy of text giving means charities can harness the pull of the moment

The main selling point for giving by text is convenience. Rather than having to dig out a credit card, premium SMS giving allows donors to simply text a keyword on their mobile (such as give, gift or hope) – following the charity’s prompt – and a set donation amount is charged to their mobile phone bill. This donation is passed on in full to the charity and donors are sent an instant thank you message.

The ease of this fundraising method is drawing younger donors, particularly those in the 25-34 age bracket. This group is among the most devoted users out of Australia’s 30 million mobile subscribers.

“It is a simple way for donors to respond to the causes that move them and charities to reach new donors and raise additional funds,” said Melina Rookes, program coordinator of Telco Together Foundation – a charity that is driving the introduction of this fundraising method in Australia through its new Text Giving website.

While donation amounts are small, the immediacy of text giving means charities can harness the pull of the moment (as well as celebrity endorsement) to urge donors to do their bit to help the cause.

Rookes explained: “The donation amount is set at $5 per SMS – similar platforms overseas typically use a $5 or $10 donation tariff because the donation is added to a phone bill rather than charged directly to a credit card.”

“This seems to be a sweet spot for donors, charities and the telco carriers, and there is the opportunity for donors and charities to continue the journey through regular giving programmes.”

Telco Together launched its Australian Text Giving platform at the end of 2018, with the support of Telstra, Vodafone and IT company Ansible. This followed a two-year pilot of the programme (from 2015 to 2017) involving 20 charities, such as Oxfam Australia, the Salvation Army, Bible Society Australia and Cancer Council. The trial showed there is an appetite for premium SMS giving here, among charities and donors.

“Donors have been overwhelmingly positive about Text Giving,” said Rookes. “In a survey conducted by Telco Together during the pilot, donors said they chose to give via text because it was the easiest way to give.”

Most of those surveyed said they did not have any difficulties in using the Text Giving platform, and charities received very few complaints.

In other good news for charities, text givers seem more willing to become regular givers than those who give through more traditional fundraising channels.

“Around 8 per cent [of those surveyed] said they had become regular givers,” said Rookes.

“We raised about $20,000 from that. It was quite a significant response.” – Andrew Hill

While fundraising via premium SMS has only been used in Australia for a few years, not-for-profits have been using it successfully in the US, UK, Canada and South Africa over the past decade.

Three shining examples of the potential of this high-tech fundraising channel are the SMS campaign launched by Barack Obama, calling for donations to the Red Cross as Hurricane Gustav approached New Orleans in 2008. On the back of this campaign, the American Red Cross later ran the most successful text-giving campaign yet, raising US $32 million from more than three million donors for disaster relief in Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake.

In the UK, UNICEF raised UK £2.5 million during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow through a global text giving campaign – with half a million UK viewers donating by text in the first hour.

On a somewhat smaller scale, Australia’s Salvation Army used a text giving campaign during the 2016 Carols in the Domain event, as part of the Text Giving platform trial. Broadcast on national TV, the campaign received good plugs from hosts of the event.

“It was a pretty good first pilot. We raised about $20,000 from that. It was quite a significant response,” said the Salvation Army’s head of community fundraising, Andrew Hill.

One key finding from this campaign, Hill noted, was the importance of “buy-in” from the campaign promoters to urge enough people to act, so that their small donations add up to a significant total.

“I call it the Bono moment – where Bono gets everyone to hold up their phone and make an action as a huge group,” said Hill.

“If you don’t get that moment, then you don’t really get a good response.”

Another issue that has prevented the Salvos from fully utilising premium SMS giving is that not all major mobile networks – including Optus – are yet on board the Text Giving platform in Australia. This means clients of these networks can’t access premium SMS giving. Instead of being able to simply enter a keyword and have the donation added to their phone bill, they are sent a link to enter credit card details.

Rookes is hopeful this will change in the near future as premium SMS giving becomes more popular in Australia, especially as Optus is already part of the Telco Together Foundation.

“As the Text Giving platform develops, we hope to extend the service out through other network carriers,” she said.