Text Messaging for Nonprofits: How to Be Compliant and Engage Donors at Scale
When used thoughtfully, digital communications can build trust with your audience and create a foundation for long-term relationships with donors and the people you serve. Communicating via digital channels can also help scale your programs, enabling your organization to reach more people with fewer resources.
Specifically, nonprofits are increasingly incorporating text messaging (SMS) into their engagement strategy because of its universal accessibility (it is available on virtually every mobile phone), high open rate (98% of SMS messages are opened), and ability to deliver service in a timely manner (90% of SMS messages are opened within three minutes).
World Central Kitchen and City Harvest are using SMS to address food insecurity by enabling people to schedule appointments to access free meals and coordinate deliveries. Democracy Works provides updates on local elections and polling stations, and helps people make voting plans — all via SMS. TrekMedics even uses SMS to save lives by providing a text message-based emergency medical dispatching platform developed specifically for communities where consistent ambulance response is not available.
However, nonprofits face a new challenge when engaging donors and constituents with SMS. In March, an updated set of SMS carrier-enforced rules governing text messaging went into effect in the U.S. Nonprofits looking to adopt SMS for digital engagement in North America should familiarize themselves with these new regulations and understand the actions that they need to take to stay in compliance.
Why SMS Compliance Is Increasingly Important
Originally, text messaging was used primarily for personal communication directly between two people’s phones. However, the emergence of Communication Platforms as a Service (CPaaS) have made the high-engagement SMS channel available to businesses and nonprofits globally. As a result, people have now grown accustomed to using SMS for everyday activities, like confirming doctors’ appointments, making restaurant reservations and, increasingly, receiving services from nonprofit organizations. In fact, it’s estimated that brands will send 2.7 trillion messages this year alone.
Unfortunately, this increase in SMS usage has also come with an increase in unwanted messages — including from bad actors. This decreases consumer engagement and threatens the overall trust in the channel. To combat this, telecom carriers in the U.S. have recently rolled out an increase to know your customer (KYC) requirements for organizations sending SMS to preserve the integrity of the channel and increase the value of each message. In return, organizations sending compliant messages get higher SMS delivery rates and increased messaging throughput (ability to reach more people quickly).
In order to build a successful texting strategy and, importantly, take advantage of the special benefits provided to nonprofits, you should familiarize yourself with this new compliance landscape.
The Difference Between A2P and P2P Messaging
Carriers use these categories to distinguish two-way text messaging between two humans — known as person-to-person (P2P) messaging — and messages sent from organizations that are mediated by software applications — known as application-to-person (A2P) messaging.
The key thing to know is that if you’re a nonprofit sending SMS messages to your constituents, staff or donors where the person is receiving messages from a software application instead of your personal cellphone, your messaging traffic is considered as A2P in North America. Telecom carriers in the United States and Canada have a strict interpretation of A2P, and consider all messaging that passes through any messaging application platform to be A2P.
The great news is that sending text messages over A2P channels is beneficial to you as a nonprofit. For example, carriers provide higher deliverability rates so you can be sure your audience is receiving the messages you send. What’s more, nonprofits are entitled to special pricing and messaging throughput benefits — so you can send more messages faster, and with significantly reduced cost. To use the A2P SMS channel, nonprofits just need to follow a simple compliance process to register with telecom carriers.
Comply With A2P Regulations and Access Nonprofit Discounts
There are two major pieces of A2P SMS compliance regulations in the U.S. to adhere to in order to receive the pricing and throughput benefits reserved for nonprofits.
There are two ways to collect consent. First, receiving a message from a constituent enables automatic opt-in for the purposes of that conversation or request. Alternatively, you can use channels outside SMS as part of a broader marketing campaign.
For example, web forms are a popular way to build lists and collect phone numbers, which your organization can then use. Collecting consent doesn’t have to be complicated. Most nonprofits are familiar with building audience lists — they’re the foundation of membership management, fundraising, awareness and more. Lists of opt-in SMS subscribers are no different.
Register With Carriers
The second step of compliance is registration with the carriers, which is required for all A2P text messages being sent from all ten-digit long code (10DLC) local phone numbers in the U.S. as of March.
There are two components of A2P registration: sharing who you are and sharing what kind of text messaging you are sending.
- You will first register what’s known as an “A2P Brand,” which involves providing information about your nonprofit, such as its legal name, EIN, address and more.
- Then you’ll register one or more “A2P Messaging Campaigns,” classified by a predetermined set of use-case categories (what kind of messaging you’re sending).
Successful registration for A2P 10DLC will ensure your SMS traffic flows over the protected channel. This may seem complex, but messaging providers offer tools to easily facilitate this registration on your behalf.
Perhaps most valuable to understand are the reserved benefits that nonprofits receive when registering for 10DLC. Specifically, verified 501(c)(3) nonprofits will receive significantly reduced carrier fees on both a per-message and per-campaign basis. For high-volume messaging campaigns, the discounted carrier fees can potentially save a nonprofit tens of thousands of dollars each year. Other nonprofit types also qualify for special benefits — for instance, verified political (e.g. PACs) and advocacy (e.g. 501(c)(4)) organizations also receive increased messaging limits so more texts can be sent in a shorter period of time without issue.
Develop Your First Text Messaging Campaign
If you’ve made it this far, then you’re well on your way to launching your first successful SMS campaign. The most common SMS campaigns I’ve seen nonprofits start with include appointment reminders and promotional texts. These are fairly simple templates to dip your toes into the SMS campaigns.
In short, SMS is a critical resource to further your impact and give your participants more options to access their services. Once you have a successful SMS program up and running, you unlock a new channel to help you scale quickly with limited resources — allowing you to reach and help more people.