Four Ways Your Nonprofit Should Be Using Text Messaging to Succeed

If your nonprofit runs an excellent email marketing or digital fundraising program, you can expect to see open rates of about 20 percent and click rates (the percentage of people who click on a link in your email after opening it) of about 3 percent. What if I told you that there was a more effective way than email to raise awareness for your mission, get volunteers, and raise money with open rates of 98 percent and click rates around 19 percent?

I bet that I’d have your attention.

SMS, or Short Message Service, is the most widely-used type of text messaging. With an SMS, you can send a message of up to 160 characters to another device. SMS has quickly taken over when it comes to quick and cost-effective marketing. Its higher open and response rates compared to email has made it the communications tool of choice for large corporations and political campaigns. 

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama sent what is now considered one of the most ground-breaking campaign communication in history when he texted his VP pick of Senator Joe Biden to nearly 3 million Americans via SMS. Later, he went on to use those 3 million phone numbers to recruit attendance at rallies, inform supporters of important campaign positions and news, and generate record-shattering grassroots fundraising totals. Back then, SMS was considered an emerging media, but in 2019, it's a standard best practice that’s hard to ignore as part of your larger marketing, communications, and fundraising strategy. But as accepted as SMS strategy is with political campaigns and even corporations, most nonprofits have yet to build it into their strategy. 

First, a little convincing. 

Email marketing isn’t going away any time soon-- and it serves a critical purpose in your communications, marketing, and fundraising strategy. But when it comes to certain types of messages, SMS is, inarguably, king. For starters, we know that the majority of your audience owns a mobile phone: in fact, according to PEW Research Center, 96 percent of Americans own a cell phone of some kind. Moreover, “A growing share of Americans now use smartphones as their primary means of online access at home. Today roughly one-in-five American adults are smartphone-only internet users – meaning they own a smartphone, but do not have traditional home broadband service.” 

The statistics on open and response rates are also eye-opening: Research shows that 98 percent of SMS messages have a response rate of 45 percent, while the open rate for even your best-performing emails are somewhere around 20-33 percent with a significantly lower response rate of 6 percent. In simple terms: almost 3 times the number of people are reading your SMS messages than the emails you’ve sent them. 

The question you’re probably asking yourself is how can I use SMS as a nonprofit? We’ve got you covered: here are our top four ways you should be using SMS right now to achieve your mission and your fundraising goals.

Raise Money

Consider this: The Red Cross led the nonprofit texting revolution almost a decade ago when, in 2010, it launched a mobile campaign to ask for donations for the earthquake victims of Haiti. It raised more than $40 million. 

While your nonprofit may not be the Red Cross, and you may be raising money for a different type of program than disaster relief, you’re doing important work that requires funding -- and sending quick appeal and donation link (and a thank you!) can still work for you.  The 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 nowadays prefer to go for a cheaper and more modern solution where a donor opts in with a shortcode (Text KEYWORD to 55555) and receives a message with an embedded link that points to a donation page. After the one-time registration, where a donor fills out credit card details, future donations are as simple as texting the donation amount to the shortcode. 

As the Nonprofit Times reported, at the Humane Society of the United States, “fundraising texts last year averaged a click-through rate 20 times greater than the average nonprofit fundraising email and a response rate 10 times higher. Dollars raised per 1,000 fundraising messages sent for Humane Society text messages reached $272 last year, compared with $36 for the average nonprofit email.” 


Nonprofits need research to understand how their constituents feel about new initiatives and programs. While email still remains the go-to when it comes to long-form surveys and polls, SMS offers a quick alternative and higher response rate to understand your donors, volunteers, and supporters. In a recent flash poll that our team ran for a partner, the response rate was a whopping 87 percent compared to an email response rate of 23 percent.  By using an SMS platform, nonprofits can design a survey or poll in a matter of minutes, and it often works as a compelling way to transform social media followers into phone numbers and email addresses on your list (text KEYWORD to 55555 to tell us what you think).

Data Collection and List-Growth

We’ve all seen opt-in codes at events and fundraisers, where organizations prompt attendees to sign-up to receive updates. The organization, in turn, receives a new addition to their SMS list of phone numbers. But SMS signup campaigns that utilize opt-ins have evolved beyond outbound messages to become a hard-to-ignore tool for data collection and list-growth. 

When people opt-in (or, send a keyword to the respective number), this triggers a data collection campaign, where stakeholders are asked a sequence of questions to collect their details -- information like addresses can be used to grow lists of prospects for your direct mail program. Email addresses can be used to grow your email list for potential volunteers and small-dollar donors.

Marketing, Awareness-building, and Volunteer Recruitment

What sets SMS apart from more traditional marketing tactics is that it’s interactive and far-reaching. Take for example, which launched an anti-bullying campaign to high school students via a text message called the Bully Text. The text gave students a game-like scenario. More than 30,000 students participated in the campaign, driving attention to the nonprofit and the mission (with a little earned media attention along the way). The National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition started a Text4Baby campaign that sent out maternity tips to women before and after birth. The campaign sent reminders and included quizzes to help mothers retain the information they were receiving in texts. George Washington University did a study of the campaign and found that participants were three times more likely to feel adequately prepared for motherhood than those who hadn’t participated in the campaign. 

When it comes to volunteer recruitment, text messaging does something that very few other marketing and communications platforms (social media, email) can do: reach people in an instant. A platform called VolunteerHub allows volunteer coordinators to instantly send important information like, when the weather changes the plan, when there’s a natural disaster, or when you have volunteer cancellations that require finding people ready to step up quickly.


No matter what your nonprofit does or what challenges it is trying to solve, the bottom line is that SMS is a tool you should be using. Contact Atrómitos now to talk about working together to develop an SMS marketing or digital fundraising plan, find the right tool for your nonprofit, and get started unlocking unparalleled potential.