How can mobiles help?

The ubiquitous nature of mobile technology has opened a whole new communication channel between non-profits and the general public. Mobile phones make direct, instant and cheap communication with supporters and the wider public possible; and unlike spam (unwanted email messages), people tend to read texts (although reply rates do vary). The restrictive nature of text messaging – 160 characters is the maximum length of a single message – means that the medium is very useful for delivering quick, sharp, concise messages, although it is a challenge and can be something of an art form condensing often complex messages into such a small space.

With so many mobile phones in the hands of so many people, responses to appeals can begin almost instantly. Mobile phones, as a channel, are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, unlike other mediums which require the user to be in a certain place at a certain time (to either see an advertisement poster or hear a radio broadcast or watch a television program). Interestingly, mobiles are also being used to drive users to more traditional media – text messages which tell people to be in a certain place at a certain time or watch a certain TV station or to go to a particular website and enter a code to see if they have won a prize. Mobile technology, as has been discussed in other sections of this toolkit, is a strong complementary technology and should not be considered a direct replacement.

Mobile phones can be used in a variety of ways to assist with fundraising, awareness-raising and the recruitment of supporters. These include:

SMS campaigns

Members of the public can be encouraged to engage further in a cause or campaign by signalling their support via text message. Subscribers can then be sent regular news updates by text and ultimately encouraged to become members or donate funds to the organisation. Individuals can also be ‘drawn in’ with details of a special offer, as was done in India by Greenpeace in 2005 (selected mobile users were given the chance to receive a free tree as part of a ‘greening the city’ campaign. A total of 149 new members were recruited in the process).

One of the biggest fundraising appeals of all time - which involved the widespread use of mobile phones to collect donations from members of the public. Donations via sms were key to the success of this appeal.

Premium SMS campaigns

Premium SMS is a text message, usually sent to a short code, which costs the sender a higher-than-normal rate to send (often at ten or twenty times the cost of a standard message). Premium SMS service providers are able to debit money from mobile accounts and pre-pay balances, so tight controls are in place governing who can use or create the service. As a result, mobile operators maintain strict control in the issuing of premium SMS numbers. Premium SMS can be a quick, instant and effective way of raising funds, and its use is now commonplace in the non-profit world, particularly in direct appeals (for natural disasters, famine, and so on).

On Nelson Mandela's recent 90th birthday his charitable organisations set up an international premium SMS service, allowing users to text in their own birthday message. Well wishers text their own message to a specific short code and receive a return thank you message complete with unique PIN allowing them to view their message securely [online].

Clickatell and BulkSMS have premium SMS services available but currently the only African countries they offer coverage to are South Africa and Namibia. You should check with Bulk SMS providers in your country to see whether they offer this service.

Airtime vouchers

In many countries airtime vouchers are available for pay as you go mobile phones. Donations of airtime can be used as a way of raising funds for an organisation or as a way of reimbursing volunteers.

WAP or mobile internet sites

WAP sites or mobile internet sites are special websites designed to be easily viewed on mobile phones. Mobiles suffer from a lack of a full keyboard and have a very small screen; so displaying information in a readable way and allowing users to easily interact with the site, takes some work. You should also consider whether your target audience is using the internet on their mobile phones. This is becoming increasingly popular as data costs fall but is still very much a marginal activity.

A number of charities have successfully implemented mobile internet sites to help raise money through the sale of games, ringtones and wallpaper images raising considerable sums of money in the process.

Mobile websites can be beneficial to NGOS as users are able to access information about your organisation or project at any time and in any place, and text messages can be sent to their handsets (if you have the number) providing a link to a website which can then be viewed on a mobile phone. SMS messages can contain a hyperlink, much the same as the links used on the internet, which can automatically take uesrs to your website on their mobile phone. Once there, users can be asked to subscribe to newsletters or text alerts (for SMS campaigns) or they can purchase ringtones, wallpaper images and games, if that content is available for purchase (sometimes it is given away as a gift or a “thank you for your support” gesture – another useful fundraising and/or awareness raising strategy.

Web sites written specifically for access on mobile phones need to be carefully thought through and planned. Users are generally unable or unwilling to spend too much time clicking link after link to find what they are looking for and as a result many mobile internet sites are usually trimmed down versions of a larger website (they are also often called ‘microsites’). It is also important to realise that many mobile subscribers pay a small charge for each screen of data they download – if they can’t find what they’re looking for quickly, then they will more than likely log off and not return.

A number of tools and services are available to help in the creation and maintenance of a mobile internet site such as, Nokia Mobile Internet Toolkit and MobiSiteGalore

Mobile content

Non-profit organisations can take advantage of the multimedia features available on many of today’s phones and develop and market a range of mobile content in order to raise funds and awareness for their cause. One can now play games on phones, use a range of elaborate ring tones and display high quality images - all of which can be produced and made available to users via SMS, picture messages or WAP (see above). Although mobile content is a strong awareness-raising and fundraising tool, developing content can be a challenge technically. Supporting a campaign through ringtones, wallpapers and information services was a successful strategy for Fauna & Flora International (FFI) who set up wildlive! UK provide conservation news and information including field diaries, discussion forums and SMS competitions.

Viral marketing

Mobile phones are very useful tools for viral marketing, where messages are passed casually between friends due to a high novelty or interest value. This can be a tool for raising awareness of your organisation's activities at very low cost and can form part of a broader fundraising campaign. As friends pass it to yet more and more friends, the reach of the messages grows exponentially. Viral marketing is usually random, ad-hoc and unstructured compared to more organised advertising and marketing methods, with users able to receive text messages (or other mobile content, such as photo images) and forward them onto their friends and family, who then do the same in what is often called a ‘trusted network’. Trusted networks present an opportunity for non-profit organisations to spread their message further, reaching out to the wider public and beyond their usual audience. Again, the reach of mobile provides significant opportunity to reach this new audience and to encourage further participation through memberships and donations.

Mobile payments

Organisations such as PayPal (a financial transactions company) now provide a mobile-based service, allowing PayPal account holders to make payments – and donations to charities – directly through their mobile phones. Organisations who have made use of this service include Amnesty International and UNICEF (donors simply texted the word “AMNESTY” or “WATER” respectively to a special five-digit short code to receive a link to donate $10 to their chosen organisation).

In some countries, m-banking (mobile banking) services allow payments (and donations) to be made through mobile handsets - in this case with the sum paid being deducted directly from the users pre-paid balance.

M-Pesa in Kenya is one of the better known m-banking services, run by local operator Safaricom, and other services in other countries such as MTN’s “Me2You” in Uganda allows mobile owners on pre-pay to transfer call time between phones.

Handset recycling schemes

Over the past few years, a number of specialist recycling companies have emerged, taking advantage of new regulations which require that a certain percentage of redundant mobile handsets be recycled on environmental grounds (saving on waste, disposal problems, pollution and so on).

Nokia have a handset recycling scheme currently operating in five African countries; Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Somalia and Tanzania.

A number of companies now run schemes to collect old handsets, selling them and then passing on the revenue to the participating charity. In countries with mature markets, handset recycling can be a useful source of additional income for non-profit organisations, particularly those with large membership bases (such as Oxfam, who have raised over $600,000 through their UK-based handset recycling scheme).

Many other mobile operators around the world provide facilities for unwanted handsets to be recycled and these schemes are often run through private companies. Some accept phones on behalf of a charity and donate either a fixed amount or a percentage of the value for each one they receive.