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Obama, Romney campaigns drive donations via text

United States consumers will soon be able to donate to their presidential campaign of choice by texting a keyword to a short code on their mobile phones for the first time.

Text donations were expected earlier this summer but were held up by the wireless carriers – key participants in the programs – as they sought legal protections over fraud and profitability. Both the campaigns for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have reportedly said the capability will be enabled soon.

“Mobile and social media have become integral to political campaigning, much like they have become integral to general marketing initiatives,” said Jeff Hasen, chief marketing officer at Hipcricket, New York. “These mediums provide direct and personal lines to consumers and must be considered as core aspects to any campaign, political or otherwise.

“Consumers have been very receptive to SMS donations in other contexts, so that will likely carry over in this case,” he said. “It’s quick, simple and has a very wide reach.”

Charities lead the way
Consumers have quickly embraced the ability to donate to their favorite causes via text because of its ease. Mobile phone users simply text a keyword to a short code to donate a predetermined amount and see the charge appear on their phone bill.  

Many charities have already been able to drive donations via text and it is likely that the presidential campaigns will also have successful here.

“The American Red Cross saw that more than 90 percent of the SMS donations for Haiti relief were from new donors,” Mr. Hasen said. “The political parties should have similar success in broadening their funding base.”

Text donations for the presidential candidates had been approved by federal regulators earlier in the summer but were held up by the wireless carriers.

One of the issues is what how much of a cut of the donations will go to carriers and aggregators for providing the text messaging services. These fees are typically between 30 and 50 percent of the money sent via text although it is not clear what fees the presidential campaigns will be paying.  

“The only concern I have regarding text message donations to political candidates is what percentage of my donation actually goes to the candidate rather than the wireless carriers,” said Derek Johnson, CEO of Tatango, Seattle.

“ The wireless carriers are notorious for charging large fees to operate premium text messaging campaigns, and this has yet to be discussed by anyone,” he said. “I think it’s the public’s right to know exactly what each wireless carrier is charging in fees and how much of their text message donation is actually reaching the candidate.”

A simpler way
Both campaigns have already been actively engaged in mobile marketing via apps, text messaging and other strategies. The text-to-give strategies are just the latest way they are extending their mobile strategies.

For the Obama campaign, messages will reportedly soon begin appearing on video screens at rallies as well as on ads and fliers informing consumers that they can donate $10 to Obama for America by texting GIVE to 62262.

The Romney campaign will reportedly also enable similar donations very soon.

“Before the launch of text message donations, had you ever tried to donate to a political candidate,” Mr. Johnson said. “To say the very least, it was a complete pain the ass.

“Now with the acceptance of text message donations by the FEC, the process of donating to a political candidate has become much more accessible,” he said.

“The more steps, or hurdles someone must go through to donate, the less likely they are to donate. This is why SMS is perfect for donations, because it’s as simple as sending a text message.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York