Charities To Get Donations via premium SMS message

Using a premium SMS message to make a donation to an Australian charity across all networks may become a reality – more than 10 years after the scheme took off in the UK and the US –  thanks to an upcoming new trial.

Australia’s top telcos have joined together for a 12 month pilot program of a Premium SMS message for charity donations and they are calling for Expressions of Interest from Australian charities to participate.

Co-ordinated by a working group brought together by Telco Together Foundation, which includes representatives from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and mobile engagement provider, OpenMarket, the pilot will involve up to 15 registered charities and will begin in July 2015.

The pilot will aim to include a mix of large and small charities, charities activating emergency relief appeals, event-based campaigns and existing appeals with a strong media presence.

According to the Foundation, charities selected to participate in the pilot will have the opportunity to include a Premium SMS  message donations ‘call to action’ (e.g. “Text GIVE to 19 xx xx to donate $5”) in their campaign materials, opening up a new fundraising channel.

Each charity will have its own short code, and each Premium SMS message sent under the pilot will have a value of $5.

Under the pilot scheme, once the donor sees the call to action and decides to donate, they text the keyword to the number shown. Provided they have sufficient phone credit, $5 will be donated and will appear as a charge on their mobile bill. The donor will receive a free ‘thank you’ SMS containing a link to a tax receipt (with the functionality to be provided by OpenMarket).

“The cost of these campaigns to the charity for the pilot is yet to be finalised, but is approximated to be no more than 5 per cent of donation revenue. Telstra has committed to covering all internal costs for the pilot, with other carriers currently considering their cost model,” according to the Telco Together Foundation.

“Following the 12 month period, the success of the pilot will be reviewed, with cost, uptake by charities and donors, charity/donor experience, remittance process and administrative effort being assessed to determine the future of the program.”

“The use of Premium SMS as a donations platform has been growing in countries such as the UK and USA. It provides mobile users with a quick and convenient method for donating to their favourite charities, with the charge appearing on their mobile bill and the funds being passed on to charities by their phone provider,” CEO of Telco Together Foundation, Renee Bowker said.

“Announcing this pilot program for Premium SMS donations is a significant milestone for both the telco and Not for Profit sector, and a clear indication of the telecommunication industries’ commitment to giving back to the community and realising the potential for mobile giving in Australia.

“This project has been a long time in the making, with much work being done to unlock some of the complexities associated with developing an approach that can be utilised across the sector.”

Australia’s Not for Profits have been urging telcos to do more to help the sector use mobile telephone technology to raise funds for more than a decade.

This Telco Together Foundation trial is the first time the major telcos have come together in Australia to try to overcome many of the hurdles preventing SMS donations in Australia including billing issues and cross platform compatibility.

In 2013 Mobile donation platform GiveEasy launched an Australian SMS text message ‘giving’ system for Australian charities ahead of the telcos saying the platform gives charities a giving solution via mobile texting that the telcos have so far not come to the party with.

The system provided charities with a unique mobile phone number that could be used for any fundraising appeal and allows mobile phone donors to make a fast donation by just typing in the dollar amount within the SMS.

Not for Profit peak body, the Community Council for Australia (CCA) launched a campaign calling on the telcos to use their technology and their reach to help establish a Mobile Giving (giving via text message) platform in Australia back in March 2012.

Donating via text is huge in the UK, Canada and the US – after the Haiti earthquake, the American Red Cross raised almost $25m in donations in two weeks from the premium sms message channel alone.

Pro Bono Australia began discussions with Australian telcos in 2003 to try to engage them into developing a simple system to allow donations via SMS on mobile phones.

In 2005, Australia’s mobile phone operators joined forces to help drive donations towards the Asian tsunami and earthquake appeal – using SMS text messaging in what was described as an Australian fundraising first. The companies involved were: Telstra; Optus; Vodafone; 3; Orange; Virgin Mobile; AAPT; Primus Telecom; Austar; SimPlus; m8 telecom; B Digital; DigiPlus; and People Telecom.

But little has happened with the telcos since then.

“Telstra is always looking for innovative ways to use technology for making a difference to our customers and the community. We are delighted to participate in this united industry effort to trial the technology in Australia,” Tim O’Leary, Chief Sustainability Officer at Telstra, said.

Helen Maisano, Associated Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Optus said: “It’s always great to see technology being used to provide customers with a simple way to make a difference.  Optus is proud to be part of an initiative that benefits customers, the community and Australian charities.”

Michael Stanley, Chair of the Vodafone Foundation Australia, said: “We’ve seen how effective text giving is for raising money for charities.  We are proud to support a program that will allow individuals and charities to use the power of mobile to help make a positive difference.”

To be eligible for participation in the pilot, charities must:

  • Hold and maintain Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status for the duration of the pilot

  • Hold and maintain relevant state-based Fundraising Licences

  • Be able to provide a customer helpline from 9am-5pm Monday-Friday throughout the campaign period (regulatory requirement for PSMS content providers)

The Telco Together Foundation will be co-ordinating the Expression of Interest process, with submissions being accepted via email.  Click here to learn how to lodge an expression of interest to take part in this exciting mobile giving pilot program.

Applications close on 8th April 2015 and successful submissions will be notified by 6th May 2015.