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Text Message Donations Breaking Ground for Australian Charities

12 April 2017 at 5:13 pm
Lina Caneva
An 18-month-long national telco pilot project trialing text messaging for charity fundraising has seen some “great successes” and some “total flops”, according to the Telco Together Foundation which is planning to extend the trial through 2017.

Lina Caneva | 12 April 2017 at 5:13 pm


Text Message Donations Breaking Ground for Australian Charities
12 April 2017 at 5:13 pm

An 18-month-long national telco pilot project trialing text messaging for charity fundraising has seen some “great successes” and some “total flops”, according to the Telco Together Foundation which is planning to extend the trial through 2017.

The Text Giving pilot will now run until October 2017 with the foundation looking for five more large charities to take part using some of the lessons learned so far.

The Text Giving pilot program was launched in October 2015 with telecommunications providers Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and mobile engagement provider OpenMarket joining forces to offer charities the new fundraising channel.

To date, 15 Australian charities including the Australian Red Cross, Cancer Council, Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Children’s Medical Research Institute, Oxfam, RSPCA, Salvation Army, Smith Family, St Vincent De Paul, Surf Life Saving, The Song Room, Vision Australia and World Wildlife Fund have made use of the text-to-donate trial as part of their fundraising campaigns.

The pilot program was designed to overcome issues of cross platform coordination and telco billing issues. During the trial, the telco aggregator received 1 per cent of the transaction and the charity received $4.95 of every $5 donation.

“The results of the pilot so far have definitely been mixed,” CEO of Telco Together Foundation Renee Bowker told Pro Bono News.

“There have been some fantastically successful campaigns and some have been total flops.

“One of the great things about the pilot groups of charities is that they are all tackling this with a real pilot mentality where they are trialing things, even if they aren’t necessarily sure they are going to work, so that the group can learn from each other.

“In terms of some of the key findings so far, the things that have worked so far are events that have a large audience, particularly a televised audience and where there is an ambassador ‘ask’ as a component of the call to action.”

Boker said in campaigns where there was roleplaying, with the program ambassador getting their phone out and showing a donor what to do and how it worked, there was “quite a peak in donations”.

“There were some real successes in the regular giving conversions across the charities as well,” she said.

“We found that it is a [good] donor acquisition channel as opposed to a fundraising channel. So being able to take a large audience and actually get them to donate a small amount in a really easy way and then having the charities contact them and convert them to regular givers.

“We have seen conversion rates across some charities as high as 10 to 15 per cent to regular givers which is just fantastic.

“In terms of what doesn’t work, there has been a lot of discussion about trialing ‘creative execution’ of the campaigns.

“Obviously there is a direct response mechanism and whether it is a ‘happy’ creative versus the ‘needs-based’ creative is a real challenge to get right. And there are some channels that we know where the needs-basis creative is much more effective. So getting it right in the campaign is a really big piece.”

Boker said that the other aspect that some charities really struggled with in terms of campaign effectiveness was getting their campaign partners or third-parties to buy into it and do what they needed to do to make it a successful campaign.

“So we have seen some campaigns where the creative was great, the charity’s execution was spot on but because they didn’t have a key partner – whether it was a media partner or whoever– who fully bought into it, it may have fallen flat and certainly didn’t achieve as much as they could have,” she said.

“One of the other things about why we want to extend the pilot is that what we are looking to do down the track is bring all these learnings together and make it available to other charities. We are really keen to make sure charities can hit the ground running.”

The Telco Together Foundation has made one addition to the criteria for charities to join the pilot.

There is now a minimum revenue of $1 million.

“We are very much looking for charities that have a campaign in mind that we think will have a chance of being successful from what we have learnt over the last 18-months,” Bowker said.

“We’re keen to collate a significant amount of case studies from pilot campaigns to ensur we capture a clear picture of what works well from a fundraising perspective in Australia.

“Long term, we are committed to arming charities with information and resources to help maximise the use of text giving and increase the viability for successful and worthwhile fundraising outcomes.”

Bowker said she was not surprised by the length of time taken to carry out the trial.

“ When we first launched the trial we had some charities pushing for it to be a three month trial before we then rolled it out to everybody. And knowing what we know now, this isn’t something you can roll out and know it will work. Looking at how it worked in other markets gets you a bit of the way there but it hasn’t proven to be a reliable indicator of what is going to work in Australia,” she said.

“The opportunity for charities to reach younger audiences is another significant advantage of text giving, not to mention the fact that donors can send a text at the exact moment of inspiration, anywhere, any time.”

Launched in July 2012, the Telco Together Foundation brings together the telecommunications industry in support of Australian communities in need.

Oxfam trialled text giving over the past two years through their 22-year partnership with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala. During the event, Oxfam’s calls to action were intertwined throughout the broadcast on Network TEN in 2016 and the ABC in 2017, in addition to digital media and outdoor marketing support.

“The use of text giving led to the overall success of our campaign,’ Oxfam’s head of relationship fundraising Kate Delbridge said.

“Comparing 2016 and 2017 donations data to that from previous years, the ease of use and one-step process of PSMS text giving provided a higher amount of total donors for lower donation amounts, resulting in much higher overall donations received.

“There was also a substantial increase in the number of new donors, with a significant number becoming regular Oxfam donors.”

Text giving will also be trialled for emergency relief campaigns, with mobile users able to text to donate to emergency relief appeals for the Red Cross, UNICEF and World Vision.

Australian telcos have been discussing the use of SMS donations since 2003.

Charities interested in submitting an expressions of interest should visit the website, with submissions due before midnight Friday 5 May.

Click here to learn more about the expression of interest (EOI) submission process.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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One comment

  • Sharon Nathani says:

    We recently did a text messaging donation campaign through another provider. How we promote our messaging is very important for driving response rates. We were pleased with the response on the day (at a sports event), but are still learning to how do even better.


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