Common challenges

Again, the chosen campaign scenario, complexity and size of the project will determine how challenging the budgeting phase will be. However, there are some typical challenges that most organisations will encounter, especially when planning their first mobile campaign. This section briefly introduces these challenges and provides hints on how to avoid them.

How to plan the most cost-efficient approach?

Two major budget decisions an organisation will need to make for each project are:

  • Should external help such as a technology vendor be used?
  • What type of a technology platform should be used (commercial vs. open source applications, and locally installed applications vs. hiring an application as a service)?

It is possible to run a mobile advocacy campaign without external help, even if you have no previous experience. Online bulk SMS services are often easy to use - see the 'how to' on How to use and manage bulk SMS services using a website .

However, if you are using any other systems it is often cheaper to contract a service provider to provide advice and technical capacity and allow staff to focus on core work such as general campaign management. If mobile projects are going to become an integral part of your organisation's strategy, running the campaigns yourselves would reduce costs in the long term by building internal capacity. A good way to start is to ask an initial vendor to help with the first project in order to provide training and transfer the necessary skills, so that external services can be kept to a minimum in the future.


Organisations often use new technologies to reduce the amount of time spent on specific tasks. In its simplest form, the use of mobile phones can reduce the communication and travel costs of an advocacy organisation.

In order to justify the costs of a mobile advocacy project there must be added value for the user, for example easier and faster access to relevant advocacy information.

If mobile campaign costs are covered from existing core funding or re-allocated from other costs, the most important task is to prepare a budget that does not exceed the funds available .

Certain mobile advocacy campaigns can be self-sustaining, and can even be used for fundraising.

Using short codes for fundraising

Most of the service providers offer short codes (special easy-to-remember phone numbers for the public to call or text in to). People who send you messages will be charged for every SMS they send to the short code. This service is based on a revenue-sharing model, where the service provider will charge you a percentage of all the revenue. Sometimes the provider is willing to waive their share of the revenue for a good cause. Marketing of such a campaign is very important and organisations have been known to approach the organisers of big events like outdoor concerts, or popular radio shows or newspapers for free promotional coverage. One disadvantage is that the service providers typically claim a much higher share of the income from these campaigns, compared to alternative donation models.

Be wary of high fees when fundraising via SMS short codes.

Some service providers may advertise that they will pass all revenues on to the organisation after the mobile operator's share has been deducted, and that they will only charge a fixed transaction fee per donation received. Others will not charge any transaction fees and will give a certain percentage of the total monthly revenues to the campaigner. The trend is for organisations to receive a lower percentage of small donations than of larger donations. For example, in South Africa, an organisation may still be asked to pay a small fee per message if the people phoning in are only being charged $0.15 per sent message. Therefore when respondents pay only a small amount, you may cover just the costs of a campaign, without a financial gain. South African organisations can loose between 30% and 70% of the funds donated by SMS in revenue-sharing and transaction fees. So if a person donates $5.00 via SMS, the organisation would only gain close to $3.50 from the transaction.

It should also be noted that the provider may set a monthly minimum amount that the campaign must reach or risk losing even the small amount of funds that have been donated via SMS.

Money-saving ideas

Some service and network providers may be willing to promote campaigns if the objective is aligned with the goals of an existing social responsibility programme.

If the campaign requires several regular purchases of bulk message packages, it may be cheaper to buy more messages less frequently.

If normal unit rates apply, weekend and evening campaigns are cheaper (if the network provider promotes off-peak rates). Also, purchasing SIM cards for each different network operator and then grouping recipients and choosing a SIM card according to which network is cheapest for each group may save money.