Spotlight: Open Fundraising

Open Fundraising, an ad agency that works exclusively with charities, found itself in a perfect storm three years ago. Just as mobile was becoming the personal communications platform of choice for consumers, the government said that it wouldn’t tax mobile services and operators agreed that they were keen to give as much as possible to charities seeking a new form of revenue here. 

This, with the fact that “no one else was doing the same thing”, meant Open Fundraising found itself in the position to help its clients use the mobile channel to increase giving and open up communications with supporters. “We didn’t set out to be a tech company – we did this because no one else could,” says James Briggs, creative director of Open Fundraising. 

“Out of nowhere came a really amazing payment system, with a response mechanism for traditional media,” he says. “We thought, ‘wow, what would happen if we tried this out for someone we work with?’. We took out a full-page ad for Christian Aid in the Guardian’s Saturday magazine explaining that every 45 seconds a child dies of malaria and asked people to text ‘net’ to donate. 

“The initial response prompted us to try the same in other papers and then on trains and other places where people are hanging around with phones in their hand. This is how we can be sure that people use their phones while they’re on the toilet,” he adds. “Before we knew it, we had thousands of new donors all putting their hands up and saying ‘I want to help children dying from malaria’.” 

Premium-rate hangover 

As a new form of giving, the effort was not without its challenges. The hangover from the heady days of Crazy Frog meant all SMS campaigns were regulated by the PhonePayPlus trade body, which specified a mandatory STOP opt-out. “But for charities”, says Briggs, “this was not a good message. It was like we were saying ‘we don’t want you’.” Briggs headed down to meet PhonePayPlus with the head of individual giving from UNICEF – which has been “blazing a trail” in mobilising the third sector –  to put the case for an alternative system. 

PhonePayPlus agreed to change the rules so charities are exempt from having to communicate STOP every month and can instead give the option to SKIP a gift rather than cancel. “We were excited to test that system,” he says. This messaging system is now used by 18 of the top 20 UK charities. 

How big is this opportunity?  

As early as 2010, explains the company’s MD, Tim Longfoot, the Red Nose Day campaign processed 250,000 donations online, 750,000 using the traditional telethon mechanism, while 4.2m people texted their contribution. Today £150,000 worth of donations pass through Open Fundraising’s Mobilise platform each month and within a year of its launch, the agency expects to have taken more than £1m in mobile gifts. Longfoot says the value and volume is doubling each month too.  

“70 per cent of what Open does is still writing to older people,” he says. “The reason we’ve seen such extraordinary growth in our mobile operations is because it’s easy. On the same device that money is taken, communication is overseen. People actually read texts; no one reads corporate charity emails. And the option to skip puts the control firmly in the hands of the donor.” 

Donors text back 

Open Fundraising ran a campaign for Breakthrough Breast Cancer as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to “put health information into purses and handbags”. The integrated campaign started with print ads to request information, which was fulfilled with a phone call and followed by monthly reminders to help women follow the advice. “Then we started receiving text replies from women whose lives had been touched by cancer. We were surprised by this, and then we realised we really shouldn’t have been,” Longfoot says. “This is a really personal interaction on exactly the right platform.” 

So what about other types of mobile communications? “We are not here to sell you an app,” says Paul de Gregorio, head of mobile with the agency. “That might change as smartphone connections get faster, but SMS is number one for us on mobile today. Simon Cowell knows just how powerful text and TV is. Mobile blurs on and offline, traditional with newer channels.” 

Making activists of Middle England 

“Our Friends of the Earth bee campaign – where you text ‘bees’ to give £3 and receive bee-friendly flower seeds as a thank you – proved that we were creating activists in ‘Middle England’, not just ‘bored young people’, as had been one accusation,” he says. “People also criticise this as ‘armchair activism’, but it’s exactly the same thing whether you are approached in the street or respond via text to a print ad. In fact, smartphones actually make giving into a mass market.” 

“We’re an ad agency using all the marketing tricks to achieve good things,” he adds. “I like advertising – so to be able to do it for good is just amazing. This is the future of where fundraising and change will happen.”

Written for Mobile Marketing Magazine and published here: http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.com/content/spotlight-open-fundraising#MrTtv2jmX1BRVUVi.99

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