The New Role SMS Is Playing in Fundraising


Texting is something that has become second nature to many of us. We use it every day as an easy way to communicate with friends, family, or loved ones. But did you know more and more nonprofits are using it as a new fundraising tool?


Back in 2010, The Red Cross’s campaign for relief efforts after the devastating earthquake in Haiti blew many of us away. It raised millions of dollars with one memorable CTA – text the word “Haiti” to donate $10. This was just the beginning of using this channel as a quick and convenient way for people to make donations. 


While SMS fundraising isn’t exactly new, it’s still slowly gaining traction in the nonprofit world. Only about 15% of nonprofits use SMS text-to-give as part of their programs, according to an NGO Global Technology Report. And in the past year, mobile donations increased by 205% – so if you haven’t already considered incorporating this channel into your strategy, here’s why you should.


SMS (or short messaging service) fundraising has tons of advantages. For example, the average open rate for an SMS campaign is a whopping 98%, compared to email’s 20%. And it doesn’t stop there. According to Nonprofits Source, 90% of text messages are read within 3 minutes, and the average donation is $107. 


By texting your supporters to solicit donations, you’re effectively reaching donors you may not usually, while simultaneously producing a new stream of revenue for your organization. This type of campaign is also an especially effective tool for nonprofits who rely on rapid response – like natural disasters, humanitarian crises, or political races. 


But why aren’t we all running as fast as we can towards SMS fundraising in the first place? Well, some organizations have reasonable concerns of balancing contact frequency with their donors and are wary of bombarding them through yet another channel. Then there’s the need to acquire phone numbers if they aren’t something you have in your database already. While it’s normal to be cautious, like any other channel used to solicit donations, if you’re thoughtful and strategic, you’ll successfully engage with your donors and drive donations. SMS fundraising isn’t something to use with each and every campaign, so it’s usually best to reserve this method for surge moments or larger campaigns like end of year.


So what else should you know before getting started with an SMS fundraising campaign?


Peer-to-Peer vs. Broadcast

There are a couple of different ways you can incorporate text messaging into your digital strategy. Broadcast messages are the most common, which are sent from a 6-digit short code that’s approved by all mobile carriers for mass texting. One person can send the message to an array of people, and you can schedule messages or send them immediately, depending on when you need them to go out. Peer-to-Peer (P2P), on the other hand, is usually run by staff or volunteers who have to manually send out the messages. 


A big difference between the two are the opt-in requirements. P2P doesn’t need an opt-in, since it’s not categorized as mass texting as it’s up to an individual to hit the send button every time. This is why it’s most commonly used for things like outreach and acquisition. 


There are benefits to both Broadcast and P2P – and to determine which one is right for you, think of your target audience. If it’s your supporters and current donors, Broadcast typically makes more sense. If it’s those who you don’t have an already existing relationship with, try P2P.



MMS, or multimedia messaging service, is distinguished from SMS because it includes an image, video, gif, or more. Both can have texts and links, but MMS has a longer character limit. And because MMS has these extra components, it tends to cost more. 


MMS may be more expensive, but in certain cases helps raise more money. M+R reported MMS messages increased response rates by up to 50% over an SMS send – but keep in mind that it depends on the type and quality of the media included. Sometimes device compatibility can have an impact on how the message is shown, or rendered. This is usually something worth testing, so you can determine what works best for your audience. 


CTA, Front & Center

When using SMS for fundraising, less is usually more. Like any other fundraising effort, having a call to action is crucial. And if you’re sending a text message as part of your campaign, the action you want your subscribers to take has to be really clear – especially if it’s to make a donation. Donors usually tend to be more responsive when they know exactly how their donation will make a difference. There are many ways to use SMS in your strategy outside of raising money too – so make sure to have a clear CTA within any advocacy work you’re pushing to your supporters like signing a petition, soliciting feedback through a survey, or selling tickets to an event.  


Mobile Optimization

Adding an SMS field to your sign-up forms on your website can lead to some major growth. Some best tips here include asking your supporters through other channels, like email or social media, to opt-in for updates. If you haven’t already, add a phone number field to your existing sign-up forms. 


Because you’ll be asking for donations via mobile device, double-check that everything on your website – especially your donation page – is optimized for the mobile experience. The easier it is to make a donation, the better!

SMS fundraising is a simple way to make it even easier for your supporters to donate. It has numerous advantages when used in the right setting and fundraising campaign. Part of its role as a successful fundraising method is how simple it is to connect with your donors. And with most Americans checking their phones 80 times a day, you’re more likely to get your message across.

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