Nonprofits Should Stay Out of Supporters' SMS Inboxes

In most cases, brands need to stay out of the text message inbox to stay in their supporters’ good graces. Find out if your messaging is an exception.
Texting Website

Digital channels for reaching your supporters have multiplied from email inboxes to Twitter feeds. But there’s a final frontier that’s managed to stay at least a little sacred: the text message inbox. To many, it’s viewed as a no-fly zone. And truth be told, it should stay that way.

Don’t get us wrong: Your supporters need to hear from you often so they stay informed on what you’re fighting for and why you can’t do it without them. To do so effectively undoubtedly takes a multi-pronged, multi-channel approach. But breaking the boundaries of the text message inbox can rub your supporters the wrong way. And sometimes, breaking that boundary can cost you.

Thankfully, there are other means to engage with your supporters that are just as immediate, personal, valuable, and safe.

Whether you are looking for a safer avenue to spread the word or just another way to engage your supporters, here’s how to make sure you’re doing it the right way.

Should Your Brand Really Send That Text? Maybe Not.

As email wanes in promotional popularity, commercial brands have dove head-first into the text message game. They’re casually pinging customers with deals, sales info, and ALL CAPS MESSAGES that feel obtuse at best and opt-out instigating at worst. No doubt you’ve been on the receiving end of these messages.

Many nonprofits have noticed the email exodus, thinking that text messaging might be the next best route. But the fact is, people simply don’t want unsolicited, unexpected messages. Period. And they are signing up for services like Discord and Signal to prove it.

All that to say, unless your supporters have opted in for text message notifications from you, receiving one out of the blue may feel like just another unsolicited interruption. Plus, they have likely already signed up to receive updates in their preferred channel. To ignore that and text them anyway feels like an invasion of privacy and trust. It also may be illegal, which we’ll get to in a minute.

Still, there are certain rare instances where connecting via text message proves to be the most efficient way to mobilize your supporters. This is usually the case with peer-to-peer calls to action during election season or when a crucial bill is poised to be passed. Even so, using Signal, an encrypted messaging app, is the most secure way to do this. Text messages can be easily hacked, and other messaging apps like WhatsApp leak data.

As your organization brainstorms how to drive action from your supporters, keep in mind that the next “it” method of communication is right around the corner. Instead of chasing a moving target, focus on making supporters come to you.

If Your Nonprofit Wants to Text Supporters, Take This Advice

Nonprofit text messaging audiences grew by 26% in 2020, according to M+R Benchmarks. So no one can blame you for wanting to consider it as an option for your organization. While we believe that brands should stay out of the text message inbox altogether, there are some times when it may be a fruitful last resort. Before you jump in, however, there are a few things to know to stay in your supporters’ good graces — and out of trouble.

Ask yourself these 3 questions before sending

Good content will break through the attention-and-algorithm economy. So if you are going to use texting, make sure it is really a message that’s worthy to enter your supporters’ text message inbox. To be confident about that, ask yourself the following questions before sending. If you answer ‘no’ to any of these, reconsider your communication channel.

  • Is this message urgent?
  • Is what we’re saying clearly communicated in such an abbreviated format?
  • Have we directed our supporters to the appropriate channel to take action?

Only text supporters who have opted in

It isn’t widely known that recipients of text messages need to have opted in to receive such communications. That’s right, those “1 TO OPT OUT” quips are no substitute for consent. Your followers have to explicitly sign up for receiving text messages from you. Otherwise, you could face a lawsuit. Before you text your followers, make sure you know the legalities.

Consider texting if you need to get out the vote

Without healthy voter turnout, our democracy dies. If your organization is in a place to help get out the vote, turning to texting has proven to be effective — and socially acceptable.

Train your staff and volunteers

The case can be made for using group text messaging for advocacy groups who are doing boots-on-the-ground work. For those who are managing the text messaging, make sure they’re trained on your organization’s talking points, basic information, brand language, and policies. Use moderators for each group, and always stay on top of who is in the group and how they got there in the first place. Remember, these volunteers will be ambassadors of your organization. You don’t want them doing or saying anything off-brand.

Use sincere, modest, concise language

Since text messages are the last remaining channel for intimate, personal communication, your language should reflect that. Opening up a conversation with a jarring 6 DAYS LEFT: And your favorite candidate is LOSING the recall by 8 points! is a sure way to get your supporters to opt out. Instead, be intentional with every word, don’t use sensationalist language, and try to personalize your message as much as possible. Your nonprofit’s donor management system is a good place to store and pull personalized tidbits that will make your recipient feel like the outreach was intentional and honest.

As Communities Move to Private SMS Platforms, Retool Your Messaging Strategy

As we mentioned before, many people have been driven to private text messaging apps that provide a more personalized, secure communication experience. Signal, Discord, and Telegraph are among the most popular. But these apps aren’t a rock solid replacement for outreach.

While Telegraph allows supergroups of up to 5,000 people, their encryption capabilities aren’t reliable and they collect a lot of data from their users. Signal has gained popularity, but it’s not without its own drawbacks.

The great Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp Blackout of October 2021 has proven that you can’t rely on social media for anything, let alone using it to communicate valuable information with your community.

Discord allows nonprofits to set up a server and invite your supporters to join you. With it, you can host streaming events, chats, and a forum. But the downside to that is you’ll need rules and moderators. It’s a great option if you have the budget plus ample staff and volunteers.

So what’s a nonprofit to do? Plenty.

Create quality content that lives on your website. Use email to drive people there. Build trust with them by keeping your digital presence fresh, updated, and compelling.

Ultimately, producing scroll-stopping content that your supporters can’t not share will spread your message better than a distracting, unexpected text message ever could.

Your community looks to you to educate, inform, and inspire them. Sending them senseless text messages lacking intentionality or strategy hinders a relationship you’re trying to build.

Instead of jumping on the texting trend, focus on what it really means to engage with your supporters. It’s probably more than a text message box can handle.

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