Czechs using novel SMS donation system to aid Indian Ocean victims

Sri Lanka, photo: CTK

The Czech government this week significantly increased the amount it is sending to help the stricken Southeast Asia region, and has now pledged over seven million euros. Some suggested it had been shamed into doing so because the Czech public was sending so much money. And what's interesting is how Czechs have been donating - with mobile phone text messages far and away the most popular method.

Sri Lanka,  photo: CTK
Czechs are mobile phone crazy. Mobile penetration exceeded the population for the first time last year. That has been confirmed by the huge number of SMS donations in the wake of the Indian Ocean disaster: over one million sent in a country of 10 million inhabitants.

"The Czech Republic has the first complex system, called Donors Message Service, which is a system under which you can donate to various non-profit organisations over text messages."

Pavlina Kalousova, executive director of the Czech Donors Forum, oversees that complex system. But don't similar organisations exist elsewhere?

"It doesn't exist in such a way. You can find in other countries a system where the mobile phone operator organises a collection and donates the collected money to a selected NGO. However, the mobile phone operator does one to two collections a year. In the Czech Republic the Donors Message Service has already served over 35 organisations."

While mobile phones have been an integral part of Czech life for some time now, SMS donating is a relatively new phenomenon, beginning just last year. But Pavlina Kalousova says it didn't take long to catch on.

"It was surprising to us that the people really got used to it very easily. Because the first collection Help the Children already collected over three million Czech crowns over SMS, which was launched in April. I think that's because it is really so easy to donate to a good cause - you can be in your living room watching television and when you get an appeal to send money you just send an SMS."

Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross responded to growing public pressure this week, saying the Czech state would not profit from the SMS campaign; instead it will donate the 19% tax imposed to relief in Southeast Asia. Was there any increase in donations after the government announcement?

"There was not a decrease! Which means that still, so many days after the disaster, people are still sending SMSes. Yesterday we received the millionth donating SMS for Asia. The number is still around 100,000 a day."

The Czech Donors Forum is currently in talks with the Finance Ministry to secure tax exemptions for other collections. And more Czech charities are also planning to join the innovative, and thoroughly modern, SMS donation scheme.