Using Text Messages to Communicate with Donors

Posted on 07/01/2019

Although texting has long been widely accepted for one-to-one communication, organizations have only recently begun to incorporate it into their customer contact strategies. Restaurants text when your table is ready, phone companies text when your bill is due, and pharmacies text when it’s time to refill a prescription. In a sea of robocalls, emails, and social media posts, sending a text can be a great way to make an important message stand out. But organizations need to be careful not to make their mass texts seem intrusive.

In fundraising, many nonprofits have had success implementing text-to-give campaigns where donors send a message to have money automatically donated through their phone billing service. Some of the most notable examples in recent years have been organized around disaster relief efforts or political campaigns. However, new technologies and services have emerged recently that allow organizations to think beyond this approach.

Many educational institutions have been slow to try texting and integrate it into their ongoing engagement and solicitation programs. In general, school advancement offices often lag in adopting new tactics and technologies, but in this case, staff may simply not know how or where to begin.

If you’re thinking about implementing texting into your broad-based donor communication efforts, here are a few considerations to help you get started:

  1. Make sure you have permission. Create opportunities for donors to opt-in for text-based messages by including the option on reply cards, online gift forms, and phone scripts. In cases where permission has not been established, give constituents advanced notice of the texting effort through other channels. Sending an email (or two!) and mentioning it in a phone call prior to the planned text outreach will help ensure that the communications do not feel intrusive.
  2. Plan outreach around key dates and deadlines. Give meaning and purpose to your texts to avoid having them seem random and out of the blue. Coordinate them around special challenge campaigns, giving days, or the end of a calendar or fiscal year. If the purpose of your text is to acknowledge or thank a donor, make sure it is sent as soon as the gift is received. Texting can also be a great way to remind donors that their pledge payments are due or that a year has elapsed since their last gift.
  3. Include critical information in the first text. Initial messages should be transparent about the purpose for the text. Be clear who it’s from by providing the name of the department or person texting, in case the recipient wants to make a follow-up call with questions or concerns. Be sure to allow recipients to opt out of receiving future texts.
  4. Keep messages simple and brief. Make sure your messages are direct and to the point. Try to keep texts to fewer than 40 words.  Avoid unnecessary words and superfluous information. This may be harder than it sounds. As numerous authors have observed, stories don’t always need to be long, but making them shorter takes more time.
  5. Don’t overdo it. Minimize the number of texts you send to any individual within a given time period. Texting may be a new and wonderfully effective way for your organization to communicate with its donors, but you need to be respectful and cautious. For many people, texting represents a “personal space,” so they’ll be quick to opt out of future communications from any organization that oversteps its bounds.

Texting now plays a significant role in the everyday lives of individuals as well as organizations. For educational institutions and their advancement shops, it offers a simple and direct means of one-to-many communications. With the right strategy in place, texting offers an efficient, important touch point for prospects and donors that can have a positive impact on their relationship with your institution and ultimately on your fundraising results.

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