Incorporating Texting into Volunteer Outreach
Texting is an integral part of daily life these days. Studies show that 8 out of 10 Americans text regularly. And while some non-profits have found ways to successfully incorporate texting into their fundraising efforts, particularly around natural disasters or events, many educational institutions are still figuring out how to integrate texting into their overall annual fund strategies.
As the Sidwell Friends School was thinking about how to tackle the problem of unanswered calls during volunteer phonathons, they decided that empowering their volunteers to use text as a new method of personal outreach might lead to more connections – and a better response.
The team engaged volunteers in Sidwell’s first textathon in conjunction with their Giving Day. Parent volunteers were assigned a list of potential donors and used an online program to send personalized solicitation texts throughout the day. The messages were concise – fewer than 160 characters each – and to the point, identifying the volunteer texter, the reason for the text, and the ask for support:
(Initial text): Hi [NAME], this is [Vol. name] a parent volunteer at SFS. It’s Annual Fund Giving Day and we are aiming for 50% participation today. Will you help?
(If no response text): We are XXX families away from goal – you can still help by making a gift at _______ or texting me your pledge. Thank you.
Full 10-digit phone numbers with a local area code contributed to the personalized feel. The texts included both a link to the online giving form and the option to opt-out of the texts, and recipients were encouraged to go online to make a gift directly through the link or reply with a pledge that could be fulfilled later.
Sidwell’s new texting approach received a strong response from both donors and volunteers. 25 percent of recipients replied to the text messages – some with pledges and some with follow-up messages confirming that the volunteer was truly associated with the school. Overall, they received 120 gifts and pledges during their first texting campaign, along with positive feedback from the community. Volunteers felt that texting was quick and easy to do and were motivated by the response rate. Parents shared that the text messages were less intrusive than phone calls, and the number of recipients who opted-out of the messages was nominal.
Thanks in part to the textathon program, parent participation and revenue is up at Sidwell Friends School. Texting has outperformed the volunteer phonathon by such a large margin (400 percent) that less than two years after launching this initiative, the school has essentially eliminated volunteer calls in favor of texting. Last fall, textathon volunteers were so motivated by their past success that they organized a matching challenge to encourage more donors to give during the texting campaign.
As a communication tool, texting is quick, direct, and personal. While a phone call from an unfamiliar number may go unanswered, a text will more than likely be received. Sidwell’s experiment shows that new habits can inspire alternative approaches that are more in sync with the rhythms of modern life. If donors aren’t answering your calls, it might be time to send them a text.
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