WORKSHOP: Case Study - Sport Relief pioneers SMS fundraising

JOHN PLUMMER

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Background: Britons send 45 million text messages a day, but until Sport Relief, not one had been used to pledge money to charity. So the response to the first Short Message Service (SMS) fundraising campaign was likely to be a significant moment for a sector constantly hungry to exploit channels for donations. Technological constraints coupled with difficulties in getting the four major UK network operators - Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile and O2 - to agree to work together in organising this kind of venture had previously prevented such activity.

Sport Relief, a joint venture between BBC Sport and Comic Relief, hired wireless marketing company Flytxt, an existing BBC business partner, to manage the technology.

Aims: No financial targets were set but the campaign would serve not only to contribute funds to Sport Relief but also to show the effectiveness of text messaging as a fundraising mechanism. With plans for Comic Relief due to be drawn up shortly, the prospect of a new giving medium was at stake. Since no-one knew how effective it would be, however, the text message campaign ran alongside traditional premium rate phone lines.

How it worked From the public's point of view, all it required beyond the will to give was the ability to key five digits into a mobile phone in response to multiple choice questions and press the send key.

There were three opportunities to give: to enter the Total Ticket sports quiz; to guess the year of TV tennis footage shown during Wimbledon; and to receive text updates on the football World Cup. Each text cost £1, which broke down to 17.5p tax, 22.5p to the network operator and 60p to Sport Relief. Charities are free, however, to determine the total cost of each SMS.

Results: Text giving proved to be almost as effective as telephone donations. Of the £220,000 raised, over £100,000 was donated via mobile phones. Kevin Cahill, chief executive of Comic Relief, which organised Sport Relief in conjunction with the BBC, is "thrilled

by the outcome. "We are pleasantly surprised and delighted that it has been such a success,

he said.

Flytxt director Pamir Gelenbe hopes it will encourage more charities to utilise the SMS mechanism, not only for fundraising but also for marketing and petitions. Current network restrictions mean it isn't possible to text pledges of more than £10. "If you are looking to raise £1 to £5 from individuals then text messaging is the right tool,

he says. "Collecting small payments can be expensive. Text messaging can cut costs considerably and even reduce them to nothing if you can get your audience to agree to pay for the cost of the message you send."

Text messaging has tripled in volume over the past two years. But perhaps the most telling statistic is that 76 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds communicate this way. By lowering the barriers to giving, perhaps text messaging could snare previously elusive young givers.

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