Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Text messages connect donors to charities

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Table of Contents

In the first six months of this year, Czechs sent 886,943 special text messages to give money to their favourite charities. Many of these were in response to calls for help from charities after flash floods ripped through parts of the country earlier this summer.

These mobile phone messages raised CZK 23.9m for an array of charities. The application that makes this all possible is called a Donors Message Services (DMS), as easy as sending a text. At CZK 30 a message – with CZK 27 of that going to the selected charity – the DMS has become part of the social landscape since it was created five years ago by the Czech Donors Forum, an umbrella organization working to increase the level of philanthropy in the country, and the GSM Association of the Czech Republic, a trade group of Global System for Mobile Communications operators.

“We have to support individual donations to charity, and we wanted to use the mobile phone as a system,” CDF head of corporate philanthropy Liběna Marková said.

The CDF was founded in 1998 to help new Czech NGOs develop their local funding base to grow away from their initial dependence on large grants and, in parallel, to promote corporate social responsibility for companies in the region. One of its major international sponsors is the US’s Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Czechs have a long history of making individual contributions to social and community causes. Construction of the National Theatre back in the 19th century was funded by public donations. Hats went on the ground to collect donations for rebuilding the facility even as firefighters put out the flames from the opening-night blaze. Now when Czechs contribute, it’s often a seasonal activity. “We don’t usually support charity regularly, only just before Christmas,” Marková said.

Technologically, there are many major differences between the 1880s, when the National Theatre was built, and modern times, not the least of which is Czechs’ love affair with their mobile phones and text messaging. TV reality shows like Big Brother prove that Czechs will not only text their friends, but they’ll also pay more to send premium messages.

Charities quickly realised that if Czechs would use their mobile phones to vote on their favourite TV reality show contestants, they would likely also use them to send money to their preferred charities.

DMS is a charitable twist on an existing trend. “Basically short text messaging is very popular here and the DMS is a modern form of that service,” said Jan Sýkora, account manager at Advanced Telecom Services Praha (ATSP), which handles the technical side of the model, in addition to other commercial features such as interactive voicemail and SMS products including competitions and concert ticket sales.

Czechs rank among the most text-happy Europeans. “The levels are pretty high, but they are not growing at the same rate they were a few years ago,” said Ivan Novotný, spokesman of the Czech Mobile Operators Association. He would not give more specific data, citing confidentiality and competition regulations.

But the premium text messages used by TV shows and competitions posed a hurdle for charities. Operators charged high rates for these messages, sometimes up to half the total collected. Rates also varied between mobile phone operators. Another technological fundraising option tapped by charities was premium rate calling, with which donors could ring a special phone number and be automatically billed at a higher toll.

DMS follows logically from the premium SMS. “This is how we can pay for our metro tickets and our parking – and it is working,” Novotný said. For operators, DMS represents new revenue. The critical issue is to increase the number of ways people use their mobile phones. “There is no room to expand by looking for new customers, only by finding new applications,” he said. “Payment and identification are the key targets we are watching.”

While the SMS didn’t originate in the Czech Republic, the country has applied it to nonprofits better than many others have. “Czechs are ahead of the curve on this,” said Maggie Jaruzel, communications manager for the civil society team at the Charles Stewart Mott foundation. “We are amazed at how they have gotten it to work.”

Representatives of both the Czech Donors Forum and the Prague Zoo, which was one of the first participants in DMS, agree that moving from premium texts to the new model was not a simple step. “The development of this project was far from easy,” Prague Zoo spokesman Vit Kahle said. “Before the [2002] floods, one of the three mobile operators operating in the Czech Republic approached us. The negotiations were plodding on, and then they stopped completely.”

The pause gave T-Mobile, Český Telecom (now O2) and Vodafone the time to form a joint position under the umbrella of the GSM Association in the Czech Republic ahead of a new round of negotiations.

The talks brought together the CDF, institutions such as the Prague Zoo, the GSM Association and Advanced Telecom Services Praha. They came to a satisfactory conclusion in 2005, settling on a unified price and operational structure: The message would cost the sender CZK 30. The beneficiary would receive CZK 27, and the two organizations administering the programme – the CDF, representing the Prague Zoo and other recipients, and ATSP, overseeing technical issues – would split the remaining CZK 3. The CDF is the sole provider of DMS, and ATSP handles all of the technical issues.

The DMS format offered simplicity and transparency for the sender, administrators, and charities. This organizational clarity for the public and participating organisations has been crucial. “It’s a win-win situation with minimal costs,” the CDF’s Marková said. “We were the first country where operators decided on a single price and on one system.”

For charities, DMS can fit into campaigns with minimal additional costs and they receive over 90% of the sent funds. They receive detailed information on incoming funds and advice on how to best use the DMS. The CDF also vets potential participants, all of which need at least a two-year clean track record to qualify.

“We get the request from NGOs, control finances and do closing reports,” Marková said. Phone operators have agreed to take a lower percentage of the text rate, just enough to cover their costs, and the messages are taxed differently from other telecom services by the Finance Ministry.

In the beginning…
The first and still one of the most successful Czech charities to use DMS is Pomozte dětem, an annual Easter collection for children with disabilities. Another well-known charity that uses DMS is the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). Most of the successful organizations link DMS to larger campaigns. Pomozte dětem, for example, has an annual televised concert, and ADRA gets additional publicity during humanitarian missions.

The Prague Zoo uses DMS to generate contributions for individual species in its care. Potential donors can find information on roughly 300 types of animal bred at the zoo. “For each of these species, there is an information panel, and, apart from the description of the species, there are also simple instructions how to send the DMS,” Kahle, the spokesman, said. Detailed records make it easy to show which animals are the best fundraisers, usually the gorillas and elephants. However, the sea lions were the primary beneficiaries: Their home was rebuilt with the nearly CZK 1 million raised in the first round of the DMS program during 2005–07.

The simplicity of DMS can help lead to impulse giving. “Every NGO has its own password,” said Michaela Krinková, coordinator of the DMS project at the Czech Donors Forum. “It’s always ‘DMS’, space, and the password.” Traditionally, there is a time lapse between when a donor sends a gift to an organization and when he or she receives the notice that funds have gone through, and an even longer gap before the thank-you note comes.

DMS speeds up the charitable gratification. “Everyone has their phone, and they get the feeling at that moment because the thank-you note is sent immediately,” Marková says. “Sometimes they also send back a ‘you’re welcome’. They also want to communicate with us.”

Typos are free with DMS, too. “The sender of a DMS is not charged if the message is not received,” the ATSP’s Sýkora said. “If there is a mistake, he is not charged.”

Glued to the phone
In the Czech Republic, mobile penetration tops 100 percent. “Everyone has a phone,” the Czech Mobile Operators Association’s Novotný said. “It’s higher than the total number of people because there are people with more than one SIM card.” Czech children get their first phones at the age of 9 or 10. Many pensioners have also adjusted to the new technology and have their own mobiles.

The main roadblock to additional mobile applications is legislative, not technical. “Once the legislative environment allows something, technology soon follows,” Novotný said. Currently, for example, the highest price permitted for a premium SMS is CZK 100. “As Czech mobile operators are daughters of international companies, once something new starts in, say, England or Spain, it will quickly follow here,” Novotný added.

The next steps for the DMS system are to improve frequency and location. The eventual goal for charities is to make giving a routine. “There is a new service, subscription, where the user can subscribe to have a donation taken out every month,” Sýkora said. The goal is to move giving from being an impulsive decision to a regular part of every month. For Czech NGOs, that could make the Christmas giving season happen 12 times a year.

Internationally, the Czech Donors Forum is helping spread its first-on-the-block experience around to other NGOs in the region. “They are the first of our grantees to do this, and others are starting: Romania has tried, Bulgaria too,” the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s Jaruzel said. The success of the Czech DMS program comes from a mix of applied technology and successful negotiations with mobile phone operators. “In South Africa, they want to do it, but the phone companies just charge too much,” Jaruzel said.

It comes down to applied technology. “Donors Forum figured out how this technology can work for us,” Jaruzel said. “It’s a wonderful way to get mainstream, average people involved in giving.”

most viewed

Subscribe Now