JustTextGiving has made it easier than ever to support fundraisers and help raise cash for charities, but have you ever wondered how it works?
Vodafone’s JustTextGiving service is bringing fundraising into the 21st century in a big way. In fact, we’ve already helped to raise more than £10m for good causes in the last two years due to its sheer simplicity – you can donate to great causes using your phone wherever you are in the UK, and all it takes is a simple text message.
But have you ever thought about what’s going on behind the scenes? The moment you press ‘send’ on your phone, your message flies off on a complex journey – one involving several companies working together, millions of pounds worth of equipment and a surprising number of messages flying to and fro.
We wanted to unravel the mystery, so we’ve been for a look behind the scenes of your text donation…
The beginning of something special
A JustTextGiving message starts out like any other SMS message, as Vodafone’s Chris Clifford, explains: “The nearest base station communicates with your mobile phone using wireless signals, and turns your text message into data that can be passed along the network.”
Once the network’s gobbled up your text, the message is forwarded to one of Vodafone’s Mobile Switching Centres (MSC), where a building crammed full of racks of computer servers, cooling equipment, batteries, generators and cables helps to make sense of your JustTextGiving message. Then what?
First off, Vodafone needs to establish whether you’re actually in a position to make a donation. “Do you have enough credit on your phone?” asks Chris, “or are there any restrictions against your name and number?” These are the kind of questions that the MSC has to figure out.
A huge database called the Home Location Register (HLR) keeps track of this information: “It highlights what consumers are allowed to do in terms of their subscriptions,” Chris explains. “Our mobile switching centre will communicate with the HLR to confirm that.
“The MSC also needs to know where to send your message,” adds Chris. “That’s from information included in a configuration parameter on your phone – we read that information to find out which SMSC (Short Message Service Centre) the message needs to be forwarded to.”
The Short Message Service Centre temporarily stores your text, preparing it for the next leg of its journey. If there’s an issue with the recipient, the SMSC can store the message for up to three days, and attempt to resend in the future. Unlike a regular text, though, JustTextGiving messages need to be directed to a specific Vodafone SMSC in order to work. Only that Vodafone database knows exactly what to do with your JustTextGiving message, which is to send it on to a third-party company called Velti.
Then the magic happens…
Velti acts as an intermediary, connecting Vodafone and JustGiving. The company uses a complex machine to handle text donations, with all messages processed by software aptly titled ‘The JustTextGiving application’. Marcus Kern, Strategic Technology Advisor at Velti, explains: “The JustTextGiving application helps us route the message to JustGiving. It acts like a small post office.”
“The application’s main job is to do a bit of searching,” adds Marcus, “to see if there’s a valid keyword in the message.
“The keyword – your JustTextGiving code – addresses two things: which charity the donation is for, and how much money you want to give. A JustTextGiving code always contains four letters and two numbers – £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10.” So, for example, somebody wanting to donate can text MARY92 £5 to 70070.
“So the JustTextGiving Application checks that the keyword contains the correct amount of letters and numbers, and if that looks plausible it passes it over to JustGiving. If it doesn’t, it responds to the sender informing them a mistake has been made.”
Providing the short code is all above board, Velti’s mini post office sends a couple of questions to JustGiving, asking ‘does this keyword exist?’, and ‘is this a valid charity or not?’
“The JustTextGiving application helps us route the message to JustGiving. It acts like a small post office.”
JustGiving responds automatically. And this is where Richard Atkinson, Chief Information Officer at JustGiving, and his team comes in: “We’ll also tell Velti what the cause is, or who the fundraiser is, so they can send a personal SMS message back to the customer, thanking them for their donation to the charity. The receipt of that text message triggers the payment as, in effect, it’s a premium SMS they’re receiving.”
JustTextGiving is free to use on any UK network, and you’ll only be charged for the donation you make. The donation works like a premium rate SMS, with the cost of the donation charged to your bill.
“The operator also recognises the 70070 JustTextGiving phone number,” adds Richard. “It knows where to send the money when that number’s used. Meanwhile, we’ve created a record in our systems, and we know there’s a promise of a donation coming through.
“We can then let the charity know, and we can add the donation to their page. In the interim, we pay the donation out with other donations that have been made from other channels, so the charity receives one payment from us that’s made up of lots of donations from lots of different sources.”
Making sure your donations are safe
We know that the security of your JustTextGiving donation is really important, so it’s an issue that Vodafone, Velti and JustGiving all take very seriously. “We rely on the authentication of the handset when processing the text message,” says Chris, “checking that the SIM card being used is valid and ensuring the phone isn’t on a stolen list.
“There’s a firewall at the connection to Velti, and there are regulations around data privacy which controls what information we’re allowed to store for any period of time.
“We have a very, very high standard of security,” adds Marcus. “The underlying risk of theft is very small anyway though, because it’s not possible to make payments to anything other than a charity. That means that the only risk, however unlikely, would be that somebody would rob other people in order to pay a charity – it’s not actually possible to get money to out of the system.”
So there you have it. In addition to being completely free on any UK network, JustTextGiving is safe, easy to use and surprisingly quick despite the complex nature of what’s going on backstage.
Thanks to the pioneering technology involved, all of the steps above happen in real time and near-instantly, with your donation appearing on a JustGiving page within moments of pressing ‘send’. What could be better?
Speaking of speed… Now you know how JustTextGiving works, check out what F1 star Jenson Button has to say about it.