Instead of “Text to Give” Think “Text to Connect”

Fundraising is about raising money. It’s as simple as it is true. So, when SMS or text messaging is discussed, one of the first questions is “how do we use text messaging to raise money?” That’s not necessarily the wrong question, but it often leads to the wrong answer that includes asking for money directly in a text – a.k.a. a “text-to-give” campaign. This is not to say “text-to-give” can’t be succesful (just ask the Red Cross or Salvation Army). But if you’re not trying to rally support around a catastrophic event, a better approach to using text messaging might be “text-to-connect”.

We often hear how, especially in younger age groups, text is the primary way people communicate. Forget about email, if you really want to connect with Millennials, you have to text them. But text is not solely the tool of the whippersnappers – according to a 2011 Hubspot study, the number of 18- to 34-year-olds who’ve made a purchase with their mobile device jumped up 74 percent from 2009 to 2010 while 35- to 54-year-olds experienced a 145 percent increase. (Overall, 40 percent of the 18 to 34 demographic made a mobile purchase while the same was true of 27 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds) We know a lot more people are thinking “text first” when it comes to communication. As a result, text moves to the forefront of our donor communication strategies.

The problem is, we often assume our texts to donors, at least some of the time, need to include a request for support. But that’s ignoring the reason why the audience is in that space – not necessarily to buy things, but to communicate. Mobile phone users are texting to learn more about what their friends are doing, to check in with family, or to grab sports scores and other news and info. They’re texting to stay informed. So use text to inform them about your nonprofit organization.

The Barack Obama campaign has been doing an outstanding job with “text-to-connect” since Mr. Obama’s  2008 campaign when, among other things, they used text to inform their supporters of the Joe Biden vice presidential pick before the news was officially released to the media. In 2012, the Obama campaign continues to use text as a way of doing everything from inviting supporters to enter contests, to giving out free merchandise, to reminding them to check their email for campaign announcements. In the example to the right, only one of the three texts is directly about fundraising and even that is hidden in a contest, as opposed to being a direct ask for support. More importantly, the texts include links to mobile websites where the conversation can be carried on in much more depth (and much more donor information can be gathered) than is possible via a text.

Presidential campaigning is a unique form of fundraising, but the principles and lessons are transferable. To help you build a better text messaging strategy for your nonprofit organization, have a look at the following tips…

Mobile-friendly websites: Whether the viewer is using a smart phone or a tablet, they’re going to want an easily navigable website where they jump from a link in a text message to your org’s site. Provide them with a mobile site that accomplishes all the goals they’re looking to achieve while also accomplishing your organization’s goals. What should a good nonprofit mobile site include? Some ideas are…

  • …a mobile online-giving form.
  • …a contact list for your organization.
  • …Google or some other map feature (if applicable).
  • …a photo sharing app that connects to the images on their phone or, better yet, that connects directly to a social network like Facebook.

A mobile site should be about the bare minimum – what do you absolutely need your donors to do on the site and what would they absolutely want to do on the site. Remember, like all things online, it’s ultimately about providing something of value to your followers.

Communicate information – not a need for money: As we discussed in the above example from the Obama campaign, text people when you have something to tell them, not when you want their money. Be sure there are plenty of opportunities to give on your mobile website, but don’t press the issue before the donor or potential donor gets to that site.

Build a mobile online giving form: It was mentioned above, but it bears repeating – make it easy to give online. Whether they’re at a fundraising event, reacting to an advertisement, or learning of the need to give through an email, donors will often make a compulsive decision to support your organization. Make sure the framework is there that allows that compulsion to become a gift.

Of course, rules are made to be broken. Some of you might have had success using text as a means of asking for and earning gifts from your donors. That said, in most cases, you’ll have far more long-term success – and add a lot of new donors in the process – if instead of thinking “text-to-give” your organization transitions to a “text-to-connect” mentality.

For more on how online and social media can boost your fundraising, visit

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