Text Messaging: Is Your Nonprofit Doing It? Resources to Help

By on Thursday, August 30, 2012
There was a great article in Nonprofit Quarterly on text-messaging and how it can be used to communicate with hard-to-reach audiences. This is what got me interested:

For organizations that serve historically marginalized communities, text messaging is particularly appealing. Unlike other technologies that require computers or broadband connectivity, there is virtually no text messaging digital divide based on ethnicity, income, or education level. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Latino and African-American adults are more likely than whites to send or receive text messages, people with annual incomes under $30,000 send nearly twice as many text messages per day as those with incomes over $75,000, and people with less than a high school education text at twice the rate of those with advanced degrees. And mobile phones are everywhere. According to Pew, 88 percent of adults in the U.S. own a mobile phone, a rate significantly higher than ownership of laptop computers (57 percent), desktop computers (55 percent), smartphones (46 percent), and tablet computers (19 percent).

While I’ve heard lots of buzz about smartphone apps and using SMS text-messaging for donations (mainly after the Haiti earthquake disaster when the American Red Cross conducted a successful fundraising campaign for donations), I’ve not heard a lot about SMS text messaging being used by nonprofits for anything other than fundraising.

After watching another consultant convince a nonprofit to do a costly text-messaging for donations campaign with no clear audience target that failed miserably – I was a bit jaded.

NP Quarterly cited some case studies showing how SMS text messaging is helping nonprofits deliver programs, such as Blue Planet Network and its work to support safe drinking water across several countries through collaboration. SMS text-messaging is a vital part of their program that links people globally to cultivate clean water where they live. Programs delivering health tips for pregnancy and infant care and job notices for the unemployed were also cited.

Like many – I’ve seen new technology innovations bring in a lot of hype, over-inflate our hopes for transformation and fundraising for nonprofits, and then been caught in the downward spiral of disappointment. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on these tools – even if our first try at them was not successful. As we realize the adjustments needed to make new technology engage – and realize that these are tools we can deploy to foster engagement and build relationships – not engagement guarantees – we become more able to use new technology innovations effectively.

There are lots of great resources out there to help your nonprofit get started in SMS text messaging/mobile technology:

Socialbrite – Mobile resourcesGuide to SMS for Social Change (TechSoup)

How To: Launch a Mobile Campaign for Nonprofits

Five Real Challenges for Nonprofit Texting Campaigns

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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