In response to appeals for charitable causes, a new movement in generous giving is sweeping the nation: Text message donations.
It was recently reported that U.S.-based cell phone users had already contributed millions of dollars towards Haiti disaster relief efforts using a Short Message Service (SMS). Additionally, an increasing number of mobile marketing companies (MMCs) and celebrities are encouraging donations from text messengers. How it works: Donors are asked to send a text message to a phone number provided in an advertisement—usually, the message must include a word or numerical code to signify the cause or contribution amount. The donation is then charged to the donor's cell phone bill.
"Giving donations through a wireless device can be a fast, easy and relatively hassle-free option" said Robert W.G. Andrew, CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. "However, convenience shouldn't stop consumers from doing research before they press 'send.'"
BBB's Charity Review Program explores the potential pitfalls associated with text message contributions and offers advice on how to avoid hassles:
Timeliness – Text message donations may not reach the charity or organization immediately. Though major cell phone carriers are working to process donations quickly, there may be a lag time based on the high volume of donations received. To ensure funds are received instantly by the intended recipient, consider contacting the organization or charity directly; most accept donation payments online, over the phone or with a check by mail.
Recurring charges – Be careful not to inadvertently sign up for monthly charges if you're hoping to make a one-time donation. When vetting charitable appeals, thoroughly review and understand all terms and conditions. Monitor your billing statements for unauthorized expenses.
Privacy – Like the internet, data breaches can occur and network security is not guaranteed when transferring data through a Short Message Service. Never send sensitive information via text message, such as Social Security or credit card numbers.
Trustworthiness – Donors should check to make sure that the charity and the MMC are legitimate and trustworthy before making a donation. Be wary of claims that 100 percent of the donation will go to "the cause," as charities may be spending a significant portion on promotions and fundraising expenses—possibly through campaigns and partnerships with MMCs.
Research businesses on the Internet; be wary if negative results appear. Search for BBB Reliability Reports on MMCs at www.bbb.org .
Verify the charity is properly registered with the state; Oregon-based charities should be registered with the Oregon Department of Justice . Get free Charity Reviews at www.bbb.org/charity to see if the organization meets BBB's 20 Standards for Charity Accountability , which includes information on how money is allocated. Click here for more BBB smart giving tips.