The digital world as we encounter it today is a crowded one. With email volume continuing to swell year by year as nonprofits compete with countless other messages for opens and clicks, the concept of a fundraising campaign that breaks through the noise to catch the attention of your supporters can feel like an increasingly daunting task.
That’s a big reason why we at MissionWired have been keeping our finger on the pulse of SMS – a channel that’s proved over recent years to be the fastest-growing avenue for revenue and actions. Over the past three years, we’ve helped our partners build SMS programs from the ground up and paid close attention to the latest innovations and opportunities in SMS fundraising. The result? For organizations who’ve taken the plunge into SMS, it’s proved to be a tremendous asset for growth.
Before we dive in to talk about how, a note of introduction: We’re MissionWired, and we pride ourselves on partnering with our clients to scale digital growth and fundraising to unparalleled heights, and optimize rigorously to ensure we’re returning at scale to truly transform programs. Our approach is holistic, looking at our partners’ programs from every strategic angle, and this very approach led us to the value of SMS as one critical element in a series of touchpoints that, together, create a surround-sound experience to a larger fundraising program.
Why move into SMS?
With competition for attention from supporters and donors in the digital world at its highest, we recommend that organizations like Sandy Hook Promise expand to a platform that can reliably:
- Break through the noise: The very nature of cellphone inboxes lends itself to higher engagement rates. The SMS platform is reported to have a 95% open rate – something no email can achieve.
- Reach supporters with immediacy: In rapid response moments, SMS is a channel that can connect organizations with supporters directly when breaking news hits.
- Drive results: One of our nonprofit partners saw their SMS response rate triple their email response rate.
(Psst … If your organization hasn’t yet launched an SMS program, and is ready to dive in, check out our guide for getting started with SMS.)
SMS and Sandy Hook Promise
In the years that followed the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Sandy Hook Promise’s work in gun violence prevention has been broad, spanning from legislative advocacy to their Know the Signs trainings, empowering students to get help before a tragedy happens. Aiming to grow their mission and their audience across channels, we worked with Sandy Hook Promise to build and cultivate a deeply engaged SMS audience in order to diversify and increase their overall revenue and drive advocacy actions.
To launch an SMS program with Sandy Hook Promise in 2020, we aimed to quickly opt in an audience of subscribers and then develop the channel as an additional touchpoint of engagement consistent with the organization’s unique voice and mission.
- Opt-ins: To build out their audiences, creating a series of low-bar, sign-up opportunities was critical. The goal was to optimize every existing form and user experience to collect mobile number opt-ins. From email campaigns and surveys, to petitions on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, to keyword opt-ins on Instagram, we added a cell phone field and opt-in wherever possible to quickly grow a subscriber list. We also placed a particular focus on Sandy Hook Promise’s existing audiences, inviting them to opt in to getting texts through targeted ads and peer-to-peer texts, alongside the cell phone fields we’d already added to new email actions and donation pages. This added outreach helped us build a foundation of existing and prospective supporters within our SMS list.
- Personalization: To maximize engagement and a sense of connection between Sandy Hook Promise and their donors, we took every opportunity we could find to segment our messages over SMS and get specific with different audiences. Personalizing by a donor’s last gift date, donation size, and their status as a nondonor, recent, lapsed, or recurring donor helps us meet supporters where they are at when sending fundraising asks over text. In fact, when we tested including a personalized ask amount in our message based on supporters’ past donations, we saw a 142% lift in gifts.
- Creative: With an eye toward consistency across all digital channels, we found success taking what we know works incredibly well over other channels like email and advertising, and translating it to SMS. Sandy Hook Promise’s content thrives on the power of voice, on the honesty of emotional language to communicate difficult subject matter, and on messages signed by familiar leaders within the organization. For Sandy Hook Promise, we found that all three of these creative approaches translate well to SMS. To put this into practice, we quickly worked SMS into Sandy Hook Promise’s existing messaging cadence alongside email and ads, to serve a similar mix of advocacy and action messages, rapid response messaging, and big fundraising campaigns throughout the year. And, given the immediacy of texting, we found the channel quickly became a central avenue for rapid response messaging in the aftermath of new tragedies from gun violence. Our teams could get messaging out to supporters more quickly and engage with supporters right away to drive strong and immediate response.
Within the first year of launching SMS, Sandy Hook Promise saw incredible growth in subscribers and revenue, and found an audience willing to donate and take action at higher rates than their existing email lists. And the program has only continued to grow:
38% higher revenue
SMS consistently raises more revenue and drives more actions than email – with one text campaign driving 41% more revenue and 30% more actions than emails sent to eight times the recipients. SMS now accounts for 38% more revenue compared to email.
418% increased list size
in under three months.
$1 million raised
within one year.
In moments of rapid response, SMS has accounted for a major spike in fundraising revenue and driven massive advocacy pressure, culminating in the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, the first major federal gun violence prevention law in nearly 30 years.
If the success of Sandy Hook Promise, alongside other partner organizations that have taken the plunge with us into SMS, has proved one thing, it’s this: SMS programs are rapidly becoming the most effective source of growth for fundraising and advocacy in the nonprofit world.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to launch an SMS program with your organization, please reach out! We’d love to get the conversation started. And for a more detailed look at SMS best practices, check out Level Up Your Texting Game for a Q&A with SMS expert Aneesh Gowri.