Reading time: 15 minutes

Text Messaging for Advocacy (501(c)(4) Nonprofit Organizations

Published: Apr 7, 2018

Text messaging is embracing the task of mobilizing people for rallies, building supporter databases, and getting people to attend events for nonprofit advocacy campaigns around the world. Broadcast texting, text-based signup and peer-to-peer texting work in tandem to help advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations and grassroots organizers shape and build their supporter outreach from the ground up.

Mass texting brings the instancy of reaching out to thousands of supporters with the click of a button, SMS sign up campaigns lets people join a cause simply by texting in a keyword, and peer to peer texting uses conversational texts between volunteers and contacts to nurture personal connections.

This article talks about how you can incorporate text messaging into organizing a campaign. I’ll cover different text messaging tools, the costs associated with each of them, the regulations that govern their usage, use cases associated with texting, and best practices.

text-messaging-for-nonprofits-organizationsTypes of Texting

Every outreach campaign has its foundation in building a strong contact list. If you’re not already collecting phone numbers through your website, start now! People are much less apprehensive about sharing their phone number with a cause-based campaign than if it were a business.

Text-based Sign Up

A text-based sign-up campaign lets you compliment the list building effort from your website by letting people text a keyword to a number to support your cause, read: join your list. A sign-up campaign works similar to any of those shopfront signs you see that read — text PIZZA to 55555, PIZZA being the keyword and 55555, the shortcode (you can also use a long code which is similar to a normal cellphone number at much more affordable rates). Once a supporter texts the keyword, you can follow-up with them through automatic responses that will collect contact details such as name, email or others.

(We’ve written in detail about how opt-in text messaging works in a previous article. Check it out here.)

Peer to Peer Texting

Since people have opted into this list, they’ll be open to receiving campaign communication. But that doesn’t mean they’re open to making a donation, attending a rally, or undertaking any other action on behalf of the campaign. That’s where peer to peer texting helps nurture personal connections with each of your contacts. The messaging model involves campaign volunteers engaging in one-to-one conversations with assigned batches of contacts — mobilizing supporters for events, providing instructions on how to vote, gauging voter sentiments on issues, raising funds, encouraging people to take action etc.

Unlike an email or a broadcast text which is more one-sided, with p2p there is a back-and-forth involved that helps forge long-term connections. When fundraising asks and event invites go out as part of a personal message rather than a broadcast, people are more inclined to respond and to take an action on behalf of your cause.

Broadcast Texting

But there are occasions where a broadcast text makes more sense than peer to peer texting. For informational outreach like reminders to attend an event, volunteer shift details, or rapid response actions where you want to reach the maximum number of people in the shortest time, broadcast texting takes the cake. A single staffer can broadcast text messages to everyone on the contact list with the click of a button.

Mobilize supporters to attend events

When an event approaches, you’ll be reaching out to identified supporters with an event invite. But we see that blanket invites sent over email or those sent as a generic broadcast text most often go unread or ignored. What’s difficult to ignore is a text on your phone personally addressing you asking about your interest in the event.

For example, a p2p text meant to initiate a conversation will read:

“Hey Jon, this is Melinda from Hope Society. We’re holding a rally next Saturday to support the Clean Energy Act ✊. There’ll be snacks and drinks 🍕. Want to come?”

Unlike a broadcast text which reads:

“We need your presence at the rally to support the Clean Energy Act. Join us next Saturday 3pm at 221B Baker St, Marylebone. Reply YES to RSVP.”

A few pointed differences being that the first text is personalized for the individual contact, doesn’t overwhelm the supporter with too many details before they show interest, and feels like it’s been sent from a real person and not a bot.

And those difference go a long way to decide if a supporter decides to text back or not. Once a person shows interest, a volunteer can start a conversation and update attendee details on survey forms within the texting tool. Event RSVP details along with any other collected data (like if the person is interested in volunteering or would like to receive campaign updates) instantly sync back to campaign CRMs like NationBuilder, NGP VAN or Action Network.

You can learn more about building events with peer-to-peer texting here.

Voter Identification

Voter identification is the first stage of an election campaign, and organizers have to be able to assess the supporter levels of voters, identify the issues affecting them, and recruit volunteers to help scale up outreach efforts. If you have yard signs, the voter ID stage is also a great time to identify the people interested in hosting them.

Identifying supporters isn’t easy when you have hundreds of thousands of people in your constituency and you have limited time, money and people to reach out to them. Peer-to-peer works well for outreach efforts here because a single campaign volunteer can easily send out more than a thousand texts in the span of an hour.

In the BC Liberal Party leadership race in Canada, we found that volunteers were identifying between 15 and 30 supporters in one hour of texting. As for the other data points you need to collect, set up surveys when creating your peer to peer texting campaign which volunteers mark based on their conversations with voters. As for yard signs, volunteers can use a ‘yard_sign’ tag too mark people who are interested in hosting the signs. Survey responses and tags can be filtered later on to create segmented lists for future outreach.

Get Out The Vote

The goal of a GOTV campaign is to get the call to action to vote to every one of your identified supporters. And at the same time respond to queries about polling location, transportation facilities, timings etc. We’ve already covered how volunteers can send out thousands of texts in a short time span. Peer to peer texting also allows volunteers to handle multiple conversations at the same time using saved replies to respond to texts. A text banker can choose a template reply, make slight modifications to add context, and hit send all in the span of a few seconds. For example, when replying to someone who asks for their polling location.

“Hi John, this is Melinda from Hope Society. Just making sure that you remember to go out to vote today! Do you know where your polling location is?”

“I’m not sure. How do I find out?”

(If you’ve imported the data for polling locations into your p2p texting tool, the text banker can now choose a previously created template such as, ”Your polling location is {poll_location}. Polls are open from 7am to 7pm.” and hit send. The poll location is automatically populated for each individual.)

“Your polling location is Civic Hall, 221B Baker St, Marylebone. Polls are open from 7am to 7pm.”

Check out our GOTV guide for peer-to-peer texting.

Rapid response

Rapid response involves reaching out to a large audience to initiate a time-sensitive action like getting people to a rally, attend a town hall meeting or like the immigrant rights organization, SIREN does it — using rapid response texts to notify immigrants about ICE activity. SIREN uses broadcast texts to alert everyone in a certain area about ICE activity, and inform them about their rights. And if anyone encounters trouble, they can text the keyword SIREN to the broadcast number to receive legal help and assistance.

Broadcast text is adept for timely actions that a situation like this calls for with a single staffer able to get the campaign up and running in a matter of minutes.


With broadcast texts, you need to have explicit opt-in from contacts before you can send out texts. But with peer to peer texting, your volunteers are manually hitting the send button for every text, with texts going out from a ten digit number. This ensures TCPA compliance, letting you legally text anyone you have a number for whether they’ve opted in or not.

All things considered, your campaign will receive better response rates and engagement from people who’ve opted in to receive texts. But for campaigns like GOTV efforts where you’re texting people off the voter list, peer to peer texting is your biggest ally.


A single text message costs less than 2¢. This along with a pay as you go model ensures that campaigns only have to dish out money based on how they scale outreach efforts.

To give you a better idea of how much a peer to peer texting campaign will cost, let’s take the example of a 10,000 strong contact list in CallHub. The initial outgoing text to 10,000 contacts will cost you $160. Plan for a 30% response rate with 20% positive responses and 10% negative or neutral responses. Assuming your positive responses average out to 4 texts per conversation and negative or neutral responses average out to 3 texts per conversation, this brings the cost of your campaign to $268 plus $2 for renting a caller ID. That’s a total of $270 for reaching out to 10,000 contacts. Keep in mind that depending on the number of contacts, actual number of conversations, and country, this number will vary.

A broadcast campaign is more affordable since you won’t be engaging people in conversations. It’s mostly just the outgoing text which will cost you $162 for a 10,000 strong contact list.

For a signup campaign, the costs are minimal if you’re using a long code (10-digit number) which will cost around $2. A short code can cost from around $3000 to $4500 dollars for a period of three months. Additional costs depend on how many incoming messages you receive and the follow-up prompts you set up to collect data. For example, if you’re running a sign-up campaign to collect name and email address, each completed signup can include six text messages, which means you’ll end up paying around 8¢ for every new supporter added to your database.

Just as the tools you use for texting campaigns are important so is the way you manage your text outreach. We analyzed more than 1,000,000 text messages sent through CallHub to compile a list of 13 text messaging best practices for campaigners. Be sure to check them out before you get started with text messaging.


Who should win the 2024 elections – Trump or Biden?

"I'm rooting for Trump. Biden's last term showed how he can send America..."

Join the discussion