Text Message Marketing for Nonprofits

August 21, 2018 - 20 minutes read

Communications for nonprofits is a huge part of how they are run.

Whether your nonprofit focuses on education, environmental conservation, or healthcare, engagement with supporters cannot be taken lightly.

In today’s world of digital media and smartphones, several nonprofits are making use of text message marketing for varied purposes and to great effect.

Let’s look at:

  • Why should you use Text Message Marketing?
  • How can you use it?
  • Engaging volunteers during events
  • Creating awareness
  • Mobilizing action during times of emergency
  • Recruiting
  • Fundraising
  • Surveys

Why use Text Message Marketing?

The advantage that text message marketing provides is the relative simplicity with which large-scale personalized conversations can be held.

You might find that harder to do with traditional media without spending more time, effort and money.

Another advantage of texting is that it people are less likely to ignore it compared to other forms of outreach; even if your texts aren’t interesting, there’s a good chance people still end up opening them and reading the message which gives your nonprofit visibility.

With text message services evolving to include more and more features, nonprofits are learning to incorporate different aspects of texting to maximize their gains while minimizing effort with browser-based texting and analytics.

How can you use it?

Nonprofits use text message marketing mainly in three ways, through:

  • Mass texting: reaching out to several people with a simple click
  • Text message signups: where people can opt into a campaign by texting a fixed keyword to a number referred to as the shortcode or long code (for eg: YES to 12345)
  • Collective (peer to peer) texting: a more personalized and scalable form of one-to-one texting to build relations

From recruiting volunteers to mobilizing supporters for a campaign, text message marketing for nonprofits has several relevant and effective use cases.

In this article, let’s understand how nonprofits can use texting in different ways to increase their supporter outreach and mobilize their campaigns.

Engaging Volunteers during Events

For nonprofits, it is essential to keep volunteers in the loop when it comes to campaigns and events; for which texting plays a big role.

Send event information using broadcast texts

With broadcast texting, campaign managers can send texts to all volunteers and supporters in no time, informing them of

  • The timings of the events
  • The venue
  • Their responsibilities

You can do this with the simple click of a button from a browser when you’re logged into the app.

Broadcast texts can also inform people who aren’t volunteers. For instance, if you have a black-tie event or a lunch fundraiser for a cause coming up, by sending out texts, you can inform people about the event.

Here, you can create an RSVP campaign where responses such as Yes or No are immediately logged into your CRM and you can target potential attendees (the people who replied Yes) through follow up messages and a formal event invite.

Address queries through collective texting

Collective Texting also creates a point of contact. If volunteers or supporters have any queries, they can text back to a number, and then you can address their concerns personally through a back and forth conversation.

With the help of CRM’s the details of the attendees are instantly updated and stored for later use i.e for future outreach.

Through texting, you ensure mass participation for an event, as follow-ups, alerts, and reminder campaigns are scheduled and sent in advance so that people don’t forget to attend.

It is even possible to collect additional information about people interested in attending your event and rally through automatic responses and data collection. For instance, you’d first sent out a text like: “We’re having a fundraiser on the 15th of this month at Stanley Park, and we’d love for you to attend! Please reply with an IN if you want to attend and an OUT if you can’t make it.”

People replying with an OUT are immediately taken out of the loop whereas those sending an IN are sent the following message:

“You can make it, awesome! It would great if you could send your name so that we can add you to our list!”

Now their name has been added to the CRM with an automatic merge tag such as {first_name, last_name}, and now their name serves as a trigger for the next text asking for their email id or another metric.

Plus, the next message refers to them by their name so the personalization has already begun to take place and you don’t put data collection off for later when they might be less keen to submit details.

Creating Awareness

Say you want to hold a rally next Monday for your ‘Clean Energy’ campaign, and want as many people to attend it to show support.

While you can use other channels to get people to attend, texting is the most convenient tool in your arsenal for its wide scope of personalization.

As mentioned in the previous point, you can use text batches to create awareness of an issue among several people and through automatic responses, obtain their details.

Use SMS opt-ins to collect contacts

You can also post about the event on your nonprofit’s website and social media handle while including a short code.

This short code then becomes the point of contact wherein users can text to this number which means they have opted-in to your campaign or rally. With the RSVP received, you can obtain other information about the people opting in by asking more questions and these details are immediately synced into the CRM such as NationBuilder or NGP Van. Using this information, volunteer databases are created wherein target segments for future outreach are identified.

With P2P texting, it also becomes possible for the volunteers who are texting multiple people to identify them manually via tags in surveys. For instance, if a volunteer is texting someone who opted into a campaign, they can pose different questions and categorize the recipient:

Sent Text: “Hey Mateo, while you’re at the rally, would you be open to holding a yard sign as a sign of protest? You won’t have to make it yourself, we’d provide it for you!”

Reply: “Yes, I’d be okay with that”

Now, the volunteer marks Mateo with a {Yard_Sign} tag to identify him and later on, it becomes possible to segment all the yard sign holders to figure out how many of them you actually have.

Mobilizing action during times of Emergency

During calamities, time is of the utmost importance; every second makes a difference. For nonprofits specializing in disaster relief, mobilizing people for rescue during such times is priority number one.

You can’t rely on making calls during crises as they may not go through quickly enough. Texting becomes important in such situations for different purposes.

Alert people about emergencies

If a tornado or a wildfire is approaching a nearby area, text batches can be immediately sent out informing people of impending emergencies and the necessary evacuation procedures to follow.

With broadcast texting, you can immediately send out those messages, not only to the people affected but also to mobilize volunteers to carry out relief operations with the necessary procedures they should follow. You can send out text such as “Please reply with an SOS if you are in immediate trouble”– and from their responses, you can identify the areas and people in need of immediate assistance.

Send out automatic responses

With automatic responses, you can then send out the procedure they should follow to safeguard themselves. Also, by getting their location with the help of their zip code, you can direct your rescue missions towards that area.

Opt-in keywords are put out on your site and social media for people who want to volunteer during such circumstances.

They text in their interest with the keyword, and automatically standard procedures are sent for them to follow. All of this data syncs in your CRM so in the future, if the same area is affected, your list of volunteers is ready for mobilization.


While you can recruit volunteers for your nonprofit via email (through sign up forms), or social media (by putting out links leading to sign up pages), texting is the simplest way of going about it.

Using text-based signups works to your advantage during recruitment: you put up a keyword on your nonprofit’s homepage or social media handle…something which goes like this:

“For all you people looking to make a difference, here’s your chance. Text IN to 45678 to show us that you’re interested, and you can become a volunteer for our nonprofit!”– an inviting post like this is sure to garner attention and doesn’t ask for much in the beginning; just a simple keyword sent to a short code.