The Ultimate Guide to SMS Messaging for Nonprofits

August 19, 2022
The Ultimate Guide to SMS Messaging for Nonprofits

Why Your Nonprofit Should Use SMS Alerts

No nonprofit ever outgrows the need to communicate.

You communicate with your clients. You communicate with staff. You communicate with donors. None of your work can happen without communication.

So why is it that communication is often so difficult?

Your clients don’t answer phone calls or email. Your staff didn’t see the Slack message. Your donors aren’t returning your calls.

Sound familiar?

If it does, you should know lots of people have the same problem.

Awful Email Open Rates

Email open rates are abysmal almost everywhere. Marketing email open rates are about 17%. Even nonprofit emails sent to clients and donors are only opened about a quarter of the time!

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. You can join the 15% of nonprofits around the world that are already using text messaging to reach their clients, staff, and donors.

(Furthermore, technology is now available to elevate these communications. Platforms like Virtuous aid nonprofits to enhance interaction with their audience through a responsive fundraising approach. This approach is not just about sending messages; it's about creating meaningful engagement and cultivating relationships with donors. It means every message is tailored, and as a nonprofit, you develop a deeper understanding of the needs of your donors.)

So why texting?

The Benefits of Text Messaging

That’s simple: People read their texts. They don’t read emails. They don’t answer their phone. They definitely don’t listen to voicemail. But texting? That’s different.

The data proves it. 98% of text messages are read and 90% are read within three minutes! sms-read-rate.png

This actually makes sense when you think about it more. Most of us aren’t near our laptops or desktop computers all the time. Even when we are, we aren’t watching email all the time.

But we pretty much always have our phones with us. According to one study, Americans check their phones 96 times a day. According to another study, Americans spend over five hours a day on their phones and younger Americans spend almost 50 minutes a day texting.

Smartphone Usage

  • There are over 3 billion smartphone users in the world right now.
  • More than 5 billion people own mobile phones, and over half of those are smartphones.
  • People spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones.
  • Americans spend around 5.4 hours a day using phones.
  • Millennials are on their phones 5.7 hours per day, while baby boomers devote 5 hours to their smartphones.
  • People check their phones 58 times a day on average with more than half of those occurring during working hours.
  • 70% of mobile sessions are shorter than 2 minutes.
  • Millennials spend 48 minutes texting per day, compared to the 30 minutes that boomers devote to this activity.

What this adds up to is unparalleled engagement. There simply is no other communication method in the world that can reach as many people as reliably as text messaging. And since you’re inherently in the business of communicating, that’s a big deal.

How SMS Alerts Work for Nonprofits

All SMS messaging that any organization does fits into one of two categories:

  • Two-Way messaging (conversations)
  • Bulk messaging (broadcasts)

    Two-way messaging refers to SMS messaging that happens between your organization and one other person. Bulk messaging is messaging that goes out from your brand to a large audience. If you think of two-way messaging as being a conversation and bulk messaging as being a broadcast then you have the right idea.

    The typical nonprofit is going to use both types of messaging.

    Conversations: Two-Way Messaging

    Conversations are helpful for a number of areas:

  • Directly contacting donors about giving opportunities
  • Maintaining positive donor relations
  • Automated messaging, or “smart replies,” about frequently requested information

    Broadcasts: Bulk Messaging

    Broadcasts, likewise, have a variety of uses:

  • Contacting larger groups of donors about upcoming events
  • Contacting staff about internal issues
  • Contacting groups of clients about services
  • What this means is that virtually any sort of short-form communication you need to do can be done via SMS.

    There are two main ways your recipients will interact with you via text messaging.

How Do SMS Alerts Work?

First, if someone wants to reach out for some kind of two-way conversation, they will text in to your 5-digit number to initiate the conversation. Here’s an example, go ahead and try it out!

Try this: > Text "TryIt" to 74121 and you'll receive an automated message response.

From there, they will be able to receive two-way text messages from your organization. This will allow them to receive smart reply messages if they need basic information about your organization as well as to receive personalized text messages from your nonprofit that are relevant to them.

Smart Replies

To see how smart replies work, send a text that says “nonprofitdemo” to 74121. This will subscribe you to receive texts from our demo account for nonprofit users. From there, you can see Smart Replies in action by texting the keyword "nonprofitdemo" to 74121. You will receive a message reply that includes a link to learn more information about a hypothetical nonprofit’s upcoming programs, services, and volunteer opportunities.

Try out Smart Replies: > Text “NonProfitDemo” to 74121 with your phone to test out the Smart Replies feature.

NOTE: When you sign up for an account with Mobile Text Alerts, there are several ways you can add contacts to your list. People can:

  • Users can text in to your number with a keyword to opt in
  • Users can complete an online form
  • You can manually upload a list of contacts, assuming you have received permission to send them text messages.

Other Use Cases

Volunteer Communication

There are other ways you can use SMS within your nonprofit, of course. Let’s continue with the educational nonprofit example. If this organization had a large network of volunteers who provided afterschool tutoring, you could also have your volunteers opt-in to receive texts from your organization.

Then, when you need volunteers for a certain session or location, you can send out a text message to all your volunteer tutors that says,

We need three tutors to help at (school) from 4:30-5:30 next Thursday. If you can help, email (office manager) or just reply to this text.

Let’s consider two more examples.


First, suppose it’s December and you are doing a major year-end fundraising push. You’ve received a generous matching donation from a donor and now want to let your network of volunteers and donors know about this opportunity they have to help your nonprofit. You can text them.

Simply send out a message that says something like this:

Hi! (Organization name) has received a generous matching gift. If you give between now and the end of the year, this donor will match gifts up to $10,000 total. To give to the campaign, use this link: (LINK)

Event Reminders

Second, if you work in a nonprofit that hosts a lot of events, you can use SMS to send out event reminders to your guests. Use the same process we have already described to add your contacts to your SMS list. Then as the event nears you can message all the guests who signed up to attend and who have consented to receive SMS messages from you.

Simply send or schedule a text the day before the event that says something relatively simple like,

Reminder: Tomorrow’s performance is scheduled for 7pm and will be held at (location). We are looking forward to seeing you!

As you can see, there are many, many use cases for text messaging. Whether you need a solution for internal communication, donor relations, or communicating with clients, SMS can do it all.

What About WhatsApp and Other Chat Apps?

In some circles, particularly with nonprofits working internationally, you might see people using chat apps like WhatsApp or GroupMe to manage their text-based mobile communications.

There are three main reasons we believe SMS is a superior choice compared to these other apps.

  • SMS does not require downloading an app or remembering another number.
  • SMS does not require an internet or data connection to function.
  • SMS can work on basic phones as well as smartphones.

    You can summarize the benefits of SMS compared to chat apps by simply saying that SMS works with extremely basic technology that virtually everyone has access to whereas chat apps always require more tech and more knowledge to operate.

    Now, to be fair, there are cases internationally where SMS regulations make bulk texting very difficult to do. In those situations, using a chat app is perhaps going to be a better option, depending on the use case in view and what country you’re operating in. That said, even here there are many cases in international markets where SMS is still the better option. It all depends on local regulations. Mobile Text Alerts does support international texting and has served customers all over the world.

    However, unless there is some local regulation with SMS that makes bulk texting more difficult, there simply isn’t any reason to favor chat apps over SMS. With SMS you don’t have to sell anyone on downloading an app (or learning to use it or memorizing their number or account address). With SMS you aren’t relying on people having internet or data access to receive messages. And with SMS you can even reach people using basic phones, which is still 12% of people in America or roughly 39 million people! If you want to be able to reach them, you should be using SMS, not chat apps.

    How to Choose a Vendor

    Here are a few of the questions to consider as you make a decision about what software to use to assist your SMS efforts:

  • How much can your organization afford to spend on SMS?
  • What features do you need?
  • Can the company deliver custom work if you need it?
  • What kind of access to support will you have?
  • Do they have current customers who use SMS the way you plan to use SMS?

    How can you get answers to these questions? There are several things you’ll likely want to do.

    First, look at online review sites such as Capterra to see how customers are reviewing various SMS companies. This will give you a useful list of potential companies to consider and you can also start doing some research on the company by reading the reviews that others have published.

    Second, once you have a list of companies you’re looking at, you can look at pricing and feature pages on their websites to see what kind of price range they work in and whether or not they offer the features you need.

    Third, you can request a demo to talk to someone from the company about the product, your organization’s needs, and so on.

    Finally, if you have good relationships with other nonprofits in your area, you could also ask for word-of-mouth recommendations.

    Next Steps

    We hope this guide has been helpful for explaining why your nonprofit should be using SMS as a primary messaging channel for your team, clients, and donors. Here are some recommended next steps you can take to determine if SMS is right for your organization and if Mobile Text Alerts is the right partner for you to work with as you implement SMS.

    First, consider signing up for a free, no-risk 14-day trial of Mobile Text Alerts software. You can do that here:

    If you’d like to talk to have someone walk you through the software so that you can learn a bit more quickly, you can sign up for a demo here.

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