5 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Text Messages


If you think text message (SMS) marketing is only for businesses, think again. It's true that businesses have gone mobile, but that's because the rest of the world has too. In the U.S. alone, a full 90 percent of the population has a cellphone, with two-thirds of adults owning a smartphone.

The Red Cross led the nonprofit texting revolution back in 2010 when it launched a successful mobile campaign to ask for donations for the earthquake victims of Haiti. Back then, only 27 percent of the U.S. population had a smartphone. Imagine the possibilities for success today.

Here are my top SMS ideas for nonprofits:

1. Give away Free Stuff; Get More Opt-ins

In order to run a successful SMS campaign, you need to have some SMS subscribers. How do you build your SMS base? Take a cue from for-profit businesses and give people free stuff. Look at Peta2, the youth program branch of PETA. The organization gave away free buttons, sunglasses, and bags to customers who opted in to its SMS program.

Peta2 also asked newly opted-in clients to reply to a text message with a comment to the FDA asking to ban cigarette testing on animals. Through this marketing push, Peta2 not only gained a whopping 25,000 new opt-ins, it also served its organization's core purpose.

2. Raise Awareness About an Issue

Take advantage of the interactive and far-reaching nature of texting to raise awareness about a problem that your organization addresses. Dosomething.org launched a genius anti-bullying campaign to high school students before the start of the school year via a text message called The Bully Text. The text presented students with a game-like scenario in which students were bullying, or being bullied, or watching someone being bullied. More than 30,000 students participated in the campaign.

3. Educate Through Texting Tips

SMS is a great way to spread information and educate the people you want to reach most. The National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition started a Text4Baby campaign that sent out maternity tips to women before and after their baby's births. The campaign also sent reminders to expecting mothers about doctor's appointments and included quizzes that mothers could take to help retain the information they were receiving in the texts.

George Washington University did a study of the text campaign and found that the receivers were three times more likely to feel adequately prepared for motherhood than those who hadn't participated in the texting campaign.

4. Promote Fundraising Events via Text

Email is an integral part of any marketing campaign. But let's face it, the open rate of emails can't compare with SMS (email has 22 percent open rate, while SMS has a 98 percent open rate). Email not only lags far behind in open rates, but the messages that are opened could be sitting in the receiver's inbox for hours, days, or weeks. On the other hand, 90 percent of text messages are opened within three minutes.

SAWA-Australia, a nonprofit that provides women in Afghanistan with health and education services, saw an increase in attendance at its fundraising events after adopting a texting campaign. Bottom line: increased open rates = increased participation.

5. Avert Crisis with Texting

If you're doing emergency outreach or your organization has direct contact with people who will require immediate responses, texting is the way to go. It's the fastest, most efficient, and most affordable form of communication.

Planned Parenthood has a text hotline for people with health-related questions. Users text a question and get a response from a live medical professional. In 2014, 911 also introduced a texting service in addition to its traditional phone service in certain states.

Texts not only provide services for individuals in an emergency, they're also useful for people who are deaf or mute.

A number of organizations who do outreach in crisis zones have also found texting to be the most effective method of communication. As conflicts arose in Gaza, the Red Cross/Red Crescent started a text campaign to find blood donors. The results were staggering: more than 500 donors showed up at the hospitals within two hours of the texts being sent.

Adopting a texting campaign for your nonprofit can produce incredible results. The goal of any nonprofit is to provide the best services it can to its targeted audiences. Texting is an affordable option for a nonprofit of any size or budget. It's also proven to be the fastest and most effective form of communication. From raising awareness to improving fundraising results to literally saving lives, texting can be a valuable asset to any nonprofit.

Alexa Lemzy is a customer support expert and blog editor at TextMagic. She is passionate about text messaging technology and how it helps businesses and nonprofits achieve their goals. Alexa also loves to write about communication; feel free to follow her on Twitter. This post was originally featured on the TechSoup blog.