SMS strategy, Strategic planning

Level Up Your Texting Game: An SMS Best Practices Q&A with AVP Aneesh Gowri

Aneesh Gowri

Associate Vice President

Melanie Holec

Vice President, Director of Marketing

For years now, SMS has been cropping up in our end-of-year reports, often called “the fastest-growing fundraising channel.” We’ve worked at our partners’ sides to build SMS fundraising programs from the ground up, scaling them to drive more and more revenue, and testing into best practices and new approaches. We’ve even picked up awards along the way (winning two Reed Awards for Best Use of SMS!).

In the past, we’ve shared our guide for getting started with SMS – and today, I sat down to talk with AVP Aneesh Gowri, who has led fundraising programs for nonprofits that are paving the way in the world of SMS fundraising. Our conversation took a deep dive into some of the best strategies to keep in mind for building your strongest SMS campaign:

MH: Every year, we see SMS fundraising play a larger role in a multi-channel approach. From a big-picture, strategic perspective, what does it look like to incorporate SMS into a broader campaign?

AG: When you compare SMS to other channels, texting connects you more directly with your audience. We always talk about how texts stack up: While donors may not see every email, they will see every text from you in a single thread. So when crafting your SMS strategy, it’s especially important to center the donor experience and think about the relationship. For example, direct fundraiser after direct fundraiser might not be the best approach over SMS; it’s important to mix in some engagement and cultivation messages, so that your donors feel more respected.

We see the most successful SMS programs get off the ground by mirroring their email programs, so carrying over your top-performing email campaigns can be really effective. It’s important to make sure your tactics are native to the platform you’re using – word count, images, and links – but at the end of the day, we’ve seen quite simply that strong fundraising content will be strong across email, ads, and SMS.

MH: How are nonprofits thinking about how to use broadcast vs. peer-to-peer texting?

AG: Shortcode texting, which we previously referred to as broadcast, is what we consider the “bread and butter” of an SMS program, and it can follow a similar sending cadence as your email program. It’s the most cost-effective way to reach your supporters, and it offers reliable deliverability, but it requires your audience to opt in to receive your messages.

With longcode texting, which originally came from the peer-to-peer space, you can text any supporter in your file as long as you have their number. Because it is significantly more expensive than shortcode texting, we use it with our partners to drive immediate revenue, as well as opt-ins to their broadcast program. The goal here is similar to a Facebook signup ad: lead generation by driving your audience to sign a petition or take a survey and opt into your shortcode texting list.

When a program is looking to grow their SMS list, we talk a lot about adding opt-in fields everywhere: your donation forms, your website, your newsletter, the list goes on. What we’re able to help our partners with even more directly now is SMS acquisition. With The Digital Co-Op, our MissionSMS offering uses state-of-the-art modeling to find you the very best audience to text and deploys your strongest content to them over SMS. For one nonprofit member, bolstering their existing SMS list with acquisition and modeling through MissionSMS led to a 275% increase in SMS donors and a 110% increase in SMS revenue year-over-year.

MH: On the subject of cost-per-message, how are you seeing nonprofit fundraising programs choose between SMS and MMS for their texting program, given their difference in expense?

AG: While MMS messages can have a higher risk associated because of their higher cost, the difference in what you’re able to do with MMS can make it far more effective, especially when trying to drive opt-ins with new prospects. With MMS, you’re able to include graphics, GIFs, and other media, and your character limit is much higher. This can be really valuable with shortcode texting, where your audience might be receiving texts from an unfamiliar number – with MMS nonprofits can add a picture and personalize their messages to help bring readers in.

Once someone is on your shortcode list, they’ve already bought into your mission, and so the simpler format of SMS can be more effective. Still, over shortcode, the cost of MMS is similar to SMS, so instead, you have the ability to make strategic choices about which type of message to send based on your texting cadence and overall content strategy.

MH: Looking forward to the second half of 2023, what are you interested in testing and learning more about when it comes to SMS fundraising?

AG: I always want to get a look at more SMS data to see how other folks are using it, and what tactics are working for driving engagement. As more and more fundraising and e-commerce moves into SMS, the space is getting crowded, and the way that texts are being sent is changing. It’s becoming all the more important to make sure the content you’re sending over SMS is intentional and personal and rooted in your brand to avoid those texts reading like spam. Taking the right steps to ensure your SMS program follows best practices, and is as engaging as possible, is critical. It’s something our team has deep experience with. We’ve been building up successful SMS programs and record-breaking SMS fundraising campaigns for our nonprofit partners for years, and we love it when a new nonprofit comes on board with us with this goal in mind.

MH: For organizations who are still working to build up their SMS programs, what role do you think SMS should play in their nonprofit fundraising plans?

AG: I truly feel that everybody should be texting a little bit more, so don’t be afraid to go big with SMS! Similar to email, this channel should be a part of your long-term planning, so it’s important to make consistent investments. We find that most programs do really well starting out with longcode or “peer to peer” texting, because you just need phone numbers and a texting platform to get started, and with some low-bar efforts to drive SMS opt-ins, you can build up an audience for shortcode messaging. When your SMS program is already off the ground, your biggest campaigns and the rapid-response work your organization is already doing can wind up being major drivers of response, revenue, and audience growth over SMS.

And when our partners have raised concerns that SMS fundraising will detract from email revenue, we’ve even run tests to investigate – and we found that not only did organizations running multi-channel campaigns raise more revenue overall, they were building up an audience of multi-channel donors that was engaging with their messages over email, SMS, and ads.

With so many nonprofits already using SMS for advocacy programs, you may find that you already have the tools you need to move into SMS fundraising – you just need the right strategy to do it.

To learn more about how to launch your SMS program, check out our introductory blog, SMS: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started. For strategies to take your SMS campaigns even further, read The Essential Nonprofit Guidebook to SMS, or reach out to a member of our team by emailing us. And to see how SMS is accounting for an increasing amount of revenue during big moments each year, take a look at our Giving Tuesday 2022 Final Report: 10 Takeaways.