By Kim Peterson, Content Marketing Specialist for Give by Cell, a technology company that provides mobile fundraising tools and text messaging services to nonprofits.

With average email open rates at 20% for nonprofits, many organizations struggle to grab the attention of supporters, volunteers, and donors. Today, statistics show that one in five consumers has more than 1,000 unread emails in their personal inbox.

So it may not come as a surprise that text message communication is on the rise as doctors’ offices, retail operations, schools—even job recruiters are sending reminders, coupons, and employment opportunities via text. Yet, some nonprofits are still hesitant to communicate that way. Why?

Maybe there’s an intimacy to text messaging that email lacks. In its infancy, texting was how people communicated with close friends and family members, not businesses and organizations.

But times are changing. In order to truly connect with a donor, organizations must incorporate text messaging into their communications. In a June 2020 Engage by Cell webinar, marketing expert Ric Militi of InnoVision Marketing Group shared, “Text messaging is one-on-one communication with your donor coming through the most private part of their phone. How many times have you heard someone say, ‘If you really want to reach me, text me’?”

Building Your List of Cell Phone Numbers

Once an organization decides to communicate via text, the next logical step is to build a list of cell phone numbers—not an easy feat without permission. Spamming is illegal, and often goes straight to a junk mail folder. In contrast, text message spam is almost always viewed, making it more annoying to donors. So how can you legally and easily build your list?

One of the quickest ways to build a list of cell phone numbers is through a text-to-donate or text-to-give mobile platform. Often used at fundraising events, both in-person and virtual, people text in a keyword like “DONATE” to a unique short code and make a credit card donation through their phone. With text-to-give, the donation is charged to the donor’s cell phone bill. Using either service, in order to make the process come full circle, you need a killer follow-up strategy.

Donor Follow Up

One common concern nonprofit professionals have expressed with mobile fundraising is follow up. When people are texting in a donation, how can an organization connect with these donors if they don’t know their name or email address?

Gabrielle Mizrathi, Senior Business Partnerships Manager with City Harvest, New York City’s largest food rescue organization, shared a solution in a recent interview, “We added a service called Fifth Message, so after someone completes a donation, they receive another text message that says, ‘Thanks for your donation. To learn more, fill out this form and we’ll add you to our communication list.’ That’s a way for people to opt in to stay in touch with our organization.”

Opting In & Opting Out

Once a donor texts into the short code, the cell phone number is then captured by the fundraising software where it can be stored for future use. In fact, people can opt-in to receive text messages from your organization, no donation necessary. If people don’t want text message communication, they can simply reply “STOP” to any message to opt-out.

In a September 2020 Give by Cell webinar, Donna Fisher Lewis, Vice President of Resource Development with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, addressed the issue of opt-outs by saying, “It’s part of the process. We have large audiences at our events that enable us to regenerate our list often. We don’t always use text messaging to ask for money. Sometimes it’s to promote events and say ‘Please join us.’ That has reduced the opt outs because we’re often just providing information.”

So Is Text Messaging the New Email?

A recent survey from tech giant Twilio showed that 85% of global consumers want the option to communicate with businesses via text message. In fact, 51% of consumers trust text messaging over phone calls and emails. Email communication still has its place, but with the challenges that social distancing has brought to in-person events, organizations must include other ways to communicate and connect with their audience in order to spread their message. Text messaging is just that: one of the easiest and most cost-effective technologies you can add to any communication strategy.

Give by Cell offers a suite of mobile fundraising tools to organizations, higher education, and museums and cultural institutions. Launched in 2008, Give by Cell pioneered the use of mobile fundraising and text messaging services to increase donor engagement.