The use of SMS in the nonprofit sector got its biggest spotlight with the Red Cross mobile giving campaign on behalf of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Relief agencies raised more than $40 million dollars via text message donations.
As the use of text donations proliferated, more and more technologies developed, which expanded the scope of SMS in the nonprofit sector.Texting found implementations beyond fundraising and marketing to be used for mobilization efforts, donor sentiment assessment, data collection and event management.
This article takes a look at the six areas where SMS has made its presence felt in the nonprofit sector.
While Red Cross used a text-to-give solution by mGive, where the donation amount was added to the phone bill of the donor, most nonprofits prefer to go for cheaper albeit similar solutions, where they do not have to forgo a cut of their donations to mobile carriers. Modern text-to-give solutions let donors opt in with a short code to receive a message with an embedded link that points to the donation page. After the one-time registration, where the donor fills up credit card details, future donations are as simple as texting the donation amount to the short code (i.e. a donor can donate $10 to your nonprofit by texting 10 to 55555) after the one-time registration.
Market research isn’t just limited to companies trying to figure out their product placement. Nonprofits need research to understand how their constituents feel about new initiatives and gauge their responses. While email still largely remains the go-to resource for online polls and surveys, SMS offers an alternate and more effective way to understand your donors, volunteers and supporters, because of its wider reach and scope for personalisation.
By using an SMS software platform, nonprofits can set up a survey or poll in a matter of minutes, if they have constituent phone lists. When a nonprofit does not have its own phone lists or if it wants to reach out to new constituents, it can run sign-up campaigns, which involves publishing a number and keyword which people can use to opt-in to its campaign (i.e. “Text WATER to 55555 to take part in the survey about freshwater conservation”).
Once respondents text the keyword to your number, the SMS software automatically starts a conversation and interacts differently with each person based on their responses.
Using text messaging for grassroots organizations has received a lot of attention of late. The most prominent examples are the grassroots organizing campaigns by the political organization Momentum in the U.K. and the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in the U.S. Momentum used SMS to send out invitations for door-to-door campaigners, and then followed it up with instructions and addresses for directing thousands of volunteers to locations based on campaign requirements. SMS gives nonprofits—especially advocacy groups—a better way to organize their supporters.
The Bernie campaign, on the other hand, used peer-to-peer text messaging, where the campaign empowered their volunteers to send out personal text messages to allocated groups of people on campaign phone lists. The distributed approach resulted in personalized one-on-one conversations between the campaign and the people it reached out to, plus it empowered and nurtured a large base of ardent volunteers. With nonprofits, the need for a personalized outreach that SMS helps create is paramount to create the type of personal connections, which will prompt people to work for and donate to your cause.
4. Data Collection
Opt-in codes have been around for some time now. We have seen them at events and fundraisers, where employees prompt attendees to sign-up to receive updates from the organization. The organization, in turn, would receive a new addition to their text message marketing list. But SMS sign-up campaigns that utilize opt-ins have evolved beyond outbound messages to become an effective tool for nonprofit data collection efforts. When people opt-in (i.e. send the published keyword to the respective number), this triggers the data collection campaign, where constituents or attendees are asked a sequence of questions to collect their details with checks to ensure the accuracy of incoming data (i.e. check to ensure that “zip code” is a numeral that is five digits long). The data is used to create donor personas for each individual with all details syncing back to nonprofit constituent management software. Collecting data through SMS has made it easy for nonprofit organizations to expand their donor database, run targeted outreach campaigns and find new prospects.
5. Event Management
New automation softwares utilize SMS to help field organizers manage event attendees through drip SMS campaigns. The campaigns can be fully automated and start with an RSVP via SMS. Based on the response to the RSVP, people who’ve signed up for an event will receive automated event updates and reminders. Softwares like marriagehero.org, which uses SMS and email for event management, use integrations to work in unison with multiple software, much like an advanced version of Zapier. That means, any attendee details pertaining to your events are instantly updated across your constituent relationship-management software. Here, SMS is used to keep your attendees in the loop and make sure that they are well informed about the event, as well as ensuring maximum participation. An example use case is as follows: Event volunteers are sent instructions via email along with an SMS asking for confirmation that the email has been read. When the volunteer responds positively via SMS, the software recognizes the keyword and moves on to the next stage of the drip campaign, or it reminds the volunteer again for a negative response or a lack of a response.
SMS has its widest application in the area of nonprofit marketing. It is simple, cost effective and has the potential to reach a wider audience than other mediums, because of its reach beyond the world of smartphones. Nonprofits can sign up for a SMS marketing software in a matter of minutes to raise awareness about issues, reach out to their constituents who have opted in with educational content or event promotions, or reach out with any other updates. Modern solutions have made this process a lot easier with seamless data sharing with other nonprofit tools, automation of replies, analytics on outreach efforts and the ability to send out thousands of text messages in the span of a few seconds.
From humble beginnings, SMS has grown and continues to grow with time. New technologies find better and smarter ways to make use of this medium. All of the implementations I’ve mentioned may not be a right fit for your nonprofit. But I’m sure some of them, if not all, can yield positive results for your nonprofit. Most SMS solutions come with a trial period or a pay as you go pricing model that makes it extremely affordable to experiment with. The best way to find out where you needs lie is to try it out yourself and scale it up from there.
Augustus Franklin is founder and CEO of CallHub, a California-based Voice and SMS service company bridging the communication gap for political campaigns, advocacy groups and nonprofits. When he is not working, he is either making toys with his kids or training for a marathon. Find him on Twitter or LinkedIn.