29/03/2013 06:52 GMT | Updated 27/05/2013 06:12 BST

Mobile Giving: Ringing the Changes

Keys. Wallet. Phone. You don't leave home without them. Over the past few years, the mobile phone has become part of this exclusive group. Recent Ofcom stats showed there are 81.6 million mobile subscriptions in the UK and the average person sends 200 text and picture messages per month. With mobile ubiquitous, the charitable sector must assess how high mobile penetration can provide new opportunities.

Augmented Reality apps bring excitement to everyday objects or provides new layers of information within physical spaces. The rise of Near Field Communication (NFC) may, over the next few years, enable you to donate to a charity just by waving your phone near a digital fund-raising tin. And more features become available with each new product launch. This range of options can be both exciting and bewildering for charities in equal measure. If the mobile is genuinely a Pandora's Box of opportunities, then how do charities with limited resources decide what to pick and where to start?

We recently commissioned a research report in an attempt to understand the opportunities mobile could bring charities. The report gathers conversations with charities and digital specialists. The jury is out on many options. Newer features, such as NFC, are seen as ones to watch over the next five years, but not worthy of serious investment just yet.

Most significant to charities right now is text giving and ensuring their websites are optimised for mobile devices, particularly with mobile internet use predicted to overtake PC use by 2015. The Vodafone Foundation has already seen the success of text giving with JustTextGiving. Started two years ago, 18,000 charities are registered for JustTextGiving, 60,000 fundraisers have used it ans almost £10m has gone through the platform. The simplicity and ease of text giving is what makes this an increasingly popular method of giving. Globally the Vodafone Foundation has calculated that over £40 million has been donated to charities via the Vodafone network in the last 20 months . Although, there is still plenty of room for growth in this area. Just seven per cent of people donate by text and only five per cent give via a mobile website.

Text giving has a bright future, but it is not the only option. Increasing smartphone penetration will enable the creation of further data solutions. What these are is not yet clear and the full opportunity for mobile and digital solutions in giving needs to be assessed.

And there are other areas which need to be addressed and discussed. In a world where charities may only know supporters by their Twitter handles or mobile numbers, how do you know who you are talking to? Some charities told us they are unable to create records in their databases without an address, suggesting those back-end systems are becoming increasingly out-of-date. And then there is the issue of what to do with the records once you have them. The default position for some charities is to ask anyone who comes into contact with them to sign up to a monthly direct debit. However, we have spoken with some text donors who were disgruntled to receive three calls from charities the following week asking them to sign up to a monthly direct debit. One charity has already started positioning its text giving campaigns to ask for monthly text donations, rather than a one-off text followed up by an often unwanted call.

Charities would benefit from guidance on digital giving. Mobile technology is widespread and is already improving lives in the health, education, agriculture and financial services sectors. The charitable sector is already benefiting from text giving and the potential for data in giving is, without doubt, significant.