Italian ‘Thumb Tribes” Drive Charity Efforts

Recent charity drives to raise money following two natural disasters in Italy have been bolstered by money sent in through text messages on cell phones.

“Help Now,”the campaign organized by daily Corriere della Sera and news program TG5, has seen donations sent in by so-called ‘thumb tribes’ or mobile phone users top or equal those sent in by credit card. Aid for earthquake victims in San Giuliano was approximately three million euro for both credit cards and SMS messages; at 942,000 euro the amount pulled in from text messages is more than triple sent in by credit cards to help flood victims in Northern Italy.

The bulk of donations were still sent in the old-fashioned way, by bank transfer, because Italians are also wary of trusting checks to the vagaries of the national postal system. With 40,000 text messages sent in Italy daily, these humanitarian SMS campaigns may soon catch up with traditional methods. Part of the phenomenon is certainly the ease and low cost of sending an blank SMS at the cost of one euro to help earthquake or flood victims and the other part is likely attributable to low numbers of Italians who own and use credit cards.

“Thanks for your help for people harmed by the recent floods in the North,” the text message sent as confirmation is a quick hit, one of the keys to success for this type of communication. Italians are among the most pro-mobile phone in the world — by 2005 the number of mobile phone lines will outnumber Italians by almost three million. The explanation given by the national observatory for mobile phones is simple: many Italians have more than one SIM card for the same phone. About half of Italians consider cell phones essential for keeping in touch with friends and family, some 40% use them every day, while less than 20% use them for work. This element of family ties to the ‘cellulare‘ or ‘telefonino‘ has led to exponential growth in the mobile phone sector — in 2001 there were 33 million cell phone numbers and, if expert predictions hold true, that number will almost double in the next three years.