A Guide to Easy and Affordable SMS Marketing for Nonprofits
Whether you're raising funds or raising awareness, mobilizing volunteers, or keeping subscribers in the loop, the key to it all is clear and effective communication. For nonprofits especially, facilitating both internal and external connectivity is critical to staying organized and staying on track to accomplish your goals as an organization.
With texting having a 98% open rate and a growth in popularity that has nearly doubled in recent years, text marketing is unequivocally the most effective tool you can use today for reaching donors, volunteers, and, frankly, most people. But, perhaps you're not sure exactly how to get started or maybe you're not fully confident in your organization's ability to comply with the various federal regulations and mobile carriers' rules regarding ethical texting. Not to worry! This comprehensive guide to SMS marketing for nonprofits covers all of that and more.
SMS Marketing for Nonprofits: Getting Started
To begin using SMS marketing for your nonprofit organization, you'll need at least one internet-connected device to send and receive texts and a business phone number.
The next step is to sign up for an SMS marketing service. Yes, if you have a mobile phone, you are technically already capable of texting people. However, a robust text marketing platform provides the sturdy foundation you'll need to build and structure a sustainable, scalable approach to staying connected and organized with larger and larger numbers of people as support for your organization grows. The right provider will also be able to work with you to help you understand your legal obligations and ensure your organization is consistently compliant with current SMS marketing best practices.
Already have a business phone number? Don't worry, you won't need to change it. The right text marketing service will allow you to simply text-enable your existing number to send SMS and MMS messages via your new marketing platform. It is always a good idea to keep the phone number your recipients are already familiar with.
Want to carry over an existing subscriber list? You can easily import your current subscriber list—provided your subscribers have already specifically opted-in to receiving texts from your organization. If not, you'll need to use your current communication channels to invite them to join your SMS subscriber list first. We also have resources available to help you grow your list of subscribers.
How Affordable Is SMS Marketing?
SMS marketing services, of course, aren't free. But if you choose the right platform—one with many features to help you customize your messaging to create truly successful campaigns—our research and other studies show that the relatively low upfront costs are far outweighed by the long-term returns text marketing provides.
of users rely on texts to keep them up-to-date on opportunities and offers from organizations they follow.
of all text messages are read within the first three minutes of being received.
people are predicted to prefer contactless forms of payment, such as text-to-pay, in the coming years.
How Nonprofits Can Use Text Marketing
When it comes to using texting for business purposes, some uses may be obvious but others may be less so. Put simply, there are three main ways in which you'll want to use SMS:
- Building and growing your subscriber list.
Typically, the best way to do this is by offering folks a simple keyword they can text to your number to opt-in. For instance, you might say, "Text "HELLO" to 555-1234 to receive regular SMS updates on our upcoming events, initiatives, and more!"
- Mass texting.
The right SMS marketing platform will allow you to quickly and easily compose and send a single text to many people at once. This is ideal for sharing news and general updates, sending emergency notifications, or reminding donors about opportunities such as donation matching campaigns.
- One-on-one communications.
A good platform will include a user-friendly dashboard that will make it easy to manage incoming messages and engage in personalized peer-to-peer texting. You and your team will be able to respond to messages directly but will also have the option to set up automated responses to common questions and comments (e.g., "When is my next local chapter meeting?") to keep things streamlined.
Sending out campaign messages will be just about as easy as sending any regular text—no matter how many people you need to reach. Even better, texting will make it easier than ever for your donors and volunteers to respond to your messages and engage with your organization too.
SMS Campaign Ideas for Raising Awareness, Donations, and More
Still not exactly sure how you can integrate SMS marketing and communication into your nonprofit's overall growth strategy? There are five major ways in which texting can be used to help you go above and beyond your organization's mission statement:
Next, we'll dive a little deeper into what each of these campaign types entails, along with some examples to spark your creativity.
Text blasts are perfect for getting the word out about an important issue to many people at once. If there's a particularly critical situation or a major issue you want to create awareness around for as many people as possible, you can easily send out a single text containing the most pertinent information about the situation as well as a clear call-to-action. Or, you can utilize user segmentation to tailor multiple messages to different groups—e.g., donors versus volunteers. For more local issues, you might also filter users by where they live.
According to the Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the status of a certain species of rhinoceros has been elevated from "Endangered" to "Critically Endangered." Environmental nonprofits might send out a mass text to all subscribers to alert them to the situation and offer inspiration as to how they can help save the rhinos. Alternatively, the organization might send two different texts out, one to current and potential donors regarding fundraising options and one to volunteers, listing opportunities for garnering support in their local communities.
Fundraising & Support
The first rule of fundraising is this: how easy you make it to donate is directly proportional to how many people will give, as well as how much they will be willing to give. Physical donation boxes, mail-in forms, and web forms all still have their place (for now at least), but nothing quite comes close to the convenience of text-to-pay—or in this case, text-to-donate, which can quadruple donations when used properly. Text-to-pay allows users to give money with a quick text containing a keyword like, "Pay $50." If it is their first time giving, they will need to register their payment information first, but after that, all they'll need to do is hit "send."
Texting is also more personal than many other methods of communication. You can take full advantage of this by using tags to insert recipients' names into the texts they receive and to tailor messages to fit their past behaviors.
A human rights organization's donation system picks up a pattern in one donor's behavior. She has donated several times in the past few months, always around the same amount. A text is sent to thank her for her continued support and to remind her that she can opt-in to giving automated donations of a fixed amount monthly, rather than donating manually every time. Pleased to no longer have to remind herself to donate, she signs up right away, even opting to round up from the amounts she had previously donated.
Because texting is near-instantaneous, it can be a powerful tool for event organization. Send SMS messages to remind attendees of an upcoming meetup or fundraising event, or to remind volunteers of their schedules and responsibilities. You can also allow your supporters to RSVP for events using keywords and even follow-up with them after the event with a text survey to determine what went well and what can be improved next time. And, should attendees have questions before, during, or after the event, a quick peer-to-peer text conversation is usually faster and more effective than asking folks to try to make calls in the middle of a noisy crowd or trek all the way to a designated information booth.
A wildlife sanctuary is hosting a small festival over the weekend to promote awareness, raise funds, and gain more local support. The sanctuary has recently moved to a new, larger location to accommodate more animals. To make sure volunteers don't show up at the old address by mistake, a reminder text is sent the night before with the new address and each volunteer's shift times. They also send a separate mass text to subscribers not tagged as volunteers to remind them of the event times as well as the new location. The organization is pleasantly surprised to find attendance is significantly higher this year than ever before.
One barrier to rousing volunteers is often the signup process. That initial flash of inspiration and compassion that motivates new volunteers to lend a hand can just as quickly be doused when, in the next moment, they are faced with a lengthy web form or stack of paperwork. Asking for too much personal information too quickly can also come off as invasive to casual supporters.
Utilizing text signups lets you remove this barrier by allowing volunteers to instead express their interest by sending just one or two quick messages. You might ask just for their name and perhaps their city or zip code to get started so that the opportunities they'll receive can be targeted to their area. When they hear about an opportunity that excites them, they will then be that much more willing to supply the rest of the information you'll need to get them fully registered.
A college student looking to give back to his community comes across a nonprofit supporting local combat-disabled veterans with a chapter in his area. He's interested in helping out but isn't ready to sign up for a specific event just yet. He's happy, however, to opt-in to local alerts by sending the keyword "YES" and his zip code to the organization's business number. A few weeks later, he opts-in to an opportunity to help organize a local fundraising event by replying with the keyword "VOLUNTEER." When the event goes well, he gets a few friends to volunteer with him the next time around.
Never is communication more critical than during times of crisis. Reaching people via phone calls can be tricky when lines may be down, and of course, it's impossible to call everyone at once. An SMS disaster alert system offers a more reliable and effective solution, allowing you to get important information out quickly to a massive number of people at the same time. Nonprofits can use SMS during emergencies to quickly mobilize volunteers as well as identify people in urgent need—users can send the keyword "SOS" and their location to your number to request immediate assistance.
SMS texts are also ideally suited to warning subscribers of impending emergencies, as the immediacy of a text will give them the most time possible to prepare. You can also set up automatic responses to quickly answer questions like "Where can I find shelter?"
In the aftermath of a hurricane, a crisis response team member discovers a father and daughter trapped under a collapsed section of their house. She texts "SOS" and their location to her organization's business number, and within minutes other volunteers arrive on the scene to help her to mount a rescue. The father and daughter are safely extracted before the rest of the house collapses.
Changing the World One Text Messaging Campaign at a Time
Whatever your cause may be, you believe in it—that's the mark of a truly charitable organization. But as you already know, real change—sustainable change—is most often the work of a community, rather than an individual person or organization.
In a world where almost everyone owns a cellphone and 86% of the population prefers texting over any other option, SMS marketing for nonprofits is becoming an increasingly critical component for connecting with others who believe in your cause. The more people you can reach, and the more quickly and conveniently you can reach them, the more support you'll receive and the more positive change you'll be able to enact.
NorthText is proud to work with charitable organizations to navigate the ins and outs of SMS marketing for nonprofits. Our text marketing platform is innovative, feature-rich, user-friendly, and will give you all the tools you need to begin making a change right away. To learn more, call or text us at (312) 869-9070, or contact us online anytime.
text messaging business
Our white label application is a Turnkey Service!