Receiving donations via SMS text message can be a powerful source of income for small charities. Almost any charity can benefit but there are limitations to consider. This post explains how text-to-donate works, what it costs, when you should use text giving and how to get started.
How text giving works
There are two main elements to text giving that you need to understand: short codes and keywords.
What is a short code?
A short codes is five-digit numbers, like 70770, to which donors can send text messages. In the UK the range 70000 to 70999 is reserved for charities. Some charities have their own dedicated short codes (Macmillan Cancer Support use the short code 70550). Short codes are in limited supply and getting a dedicated one just for you is expensive, so small charities share a short code with others.
What is a keyword?
The Keyword is a set of up to six characters that a donor must send in their message to make a donation, e.g. CARE, or YEMEN. Keywords are managed in a similar way to short codes, making there is no duplication so that your donation gets through properly.
Charities that have their own dedicated short code can use whatever keywords they want for different campaigns because the shortcode is already unique to them. Charities using shared short codes will need to check the availability of desired keywords to make sure they are not already in use by other charities.
For example, at the time of writing this post, you can give to Care International in the following ways:
Text CARE to 70800 to give £5 to the Myanmar appeal
Text YEMEN to 70755 to give £10 to the Yemen Crisis appeal
What does it cost?
One disadvantage of text giving is the cost. In order to take donations by text message, charities often need to pay a monthly fee, a per-transaction fee and sometimes a per-message fee as well. However, there are some free options available that will work well for small charities (see below).
The strengths of text giving
Text-to-donate is among the fastest and most immediate ways to give.
No login required: Who wants to set up yet another online account?
No internet required: Not such an issue these days but still relevant.
No card required: The donation is managed by the mobile provider.
The limitations of text giving
Text-to-donate can be complicated and costly to manage.
Capped amounts: The maximum you can give via text is £10.
Higher costs: Extra layers increase costs over more direct channels.
Gift aid: You must send a second text asking for opt-in.
No Direct Debit: For regular giving, the complexities are magnified.
Lack of data: You can't get personal info from your donors.
When to use text giving
Text-to-donate is one of the fastest and most immediate ways to give and is therefore perfect at events or in print. Due to the added complexities, however, in most other circumstances it’s better to focus on building the best online donation experience possible.
The no. 1 time to use text giving is at an event. You can deliver a compelling pitch to a captive audience and ask them to get their phones out there and then. You can even wait while they do it, increasing the chances that people will follow through. Reserving text giving only for events is one of the most efficient and cost-effective text-to-donate fundraising strategies.
Printed posters, adverts and leaflets that people encounter while on the move are good opportunities to promote text giving because you may only have people’s attention for a very short period.
Even in print, text-to-donate works best if you expect people to give immediately. If you expect them to remember the call to action, and act later, a URL can actually be more memorable than a short code and keyword.
Compare: mycharity.org/donate with text MYCHAR to 70560 to donate £10
If you can get people to visit your website on their phone, you may be able to get more data from the transaction.
How to get started with text giving
There are lots of agencies and platforms that offer text marketing services, but not many that focus specifically on donations. Here are the two best options for charities looking to get started with text-to-donate.
In 2011 JustGiving teamed up with Vodafone to create JustTextGiving, a free service for charities. This is our recommended approach for small charities who want to try text giving. While it’s easy to setup and free to use it’s worth noting some of the smallprint:
- You don’t get any donor data as standard
- You have to sign up for a paid JustGiving account to view any data
- While there are currently no fees, JustGiving reserve the right to change this
Instagiv is a mainstream option that’s been going since 2010. Their website doesn’t offer much detail about exactly how it works but they have some big-name clients and some useful looking services. The fees seem very high though, compared with other options:
- £25/month flat fee
- £0.05 per text message
- 5% commission on donations
Mobile alternatives to text giving
There are more modern technologies that offer to store billing information to enable faster transactions on mobile devices. These can be a bit easier and cheaper to get started with than text-to-donate.
The two major phone operating systems, iOS and Android both have secure and trusted methods for making payments using your mobile device. You can register as a merchant and add buttons to your website to pay via these methods. The user simply taps the button, validates their ID with a fingerprint or similar and that’s it. This option has particular promise for point-of-sale donations.
PayPal stores all billing details to allow a quick check-out experience. Regular PayPal users will often be logged in on their devices already allowing very quick payments to be made. So, while pushing all donors to PayPal will frustrate those who are not regular PayPal users, offering the option is advisable where you can.
Native donation apps
Lots of innovative mobile apps that make it easy to donate have cropped up in recent years. They are worth a look but none have gained much traction.