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Text-for-charity takes off at Virgin Mobile

Don't tell mainstream marketers this, but text-messaging promotions can work.

Don't tell mainstream marketers this, but text-messaging promotions can work.

At least for Virgin Mobile, which used the power of its network of 5 million mobile customers to raise money and awareness for homeless children in America. (There are an estimated 1.2 million to 2.8 million children and teens who are homeless in the United States.) In partnership with the nonprofit YouthNoise, among others, Virgin Mobile urged its customers, via text message, to donate $1 from their account to help homeless kids by sending the word "donate" to the short-code 66473 (or "noise"). Since the beginning of the year, Virgin Mobile has received more than 84,000 text messages.

That's a high number considering that Virgin Mobile's customers pay for service on a month-to-month basis, Ariel Rosen, director of Virgin Mobile's pro-social initiatives, said in an interview Monday. That means Virgin Mobile has a large number of teen-age and low-income customers, she said.

"It's indicative that this is an easy, quick way to evoke 'armchair activism,'" said Rosen. She said the initial 4 percent rate of response to the campaign blows away the standard 1 percent (or below) that direct marketers typically get for promotions.

"If you position charity in a way that?s meaningful with the right technology, people will respond," she said.

Considering that roughly 80 percent of teens with cell phones regularly use text messaging, according to JupiterResearch, this could be a growing means for marketing promotions to kids.

Last week, Virgin Mobile's lobbying efforts paid off, too, when Congress approved a proposal that would make November the National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. (Virgin Mobile worked with several nonprofits to lobby for the cause on Capitol Hill.)

The company hopes to receive at least 112,000 text messages by November. To help its cause, you can also send a text message of the word "karma" to the short-code 68405 to donate a piece of clothing to a homeless child, with help from the nonprofit Stand Up For Kids.