Text messaging is becoming an increasingly important fundraising tool. Is it right for you? Probably, assuming you have donors with cell phones (wink-wink). But there are different varieties of text messaging, and different ways to use this messaging medium. The key is to choose the tool that will work best for you, given your resources, needs and constituency.

Why it’s so powerful

  • Over 90% of Americans own a smartphone.
  • People look at their smarphones at least 80 times/day.
  • 98% of text messages are read within the first five minutes of being received – way better than the 20 – 30% open rates for emails.
  • Almost 40% of Americans use cell phones to pay at least one bill. So they’re accustomed to processing financial transactions via mobile.
  • A study by Qgiv learned 10% of donors prefer to give by phone. This breaks down demographically. It’s not as attractive to Boomers (who still represent the majority of giving for a majority of nonprofits). It’s more attractive for 30%+ of GenX and Millennials.

Inbound (the donor texts you) styles

TEXT TO GIVE (bill-to-carrier)

The donor sends a text message to a short code; this is tied to a telephone carrier billing platform. The donation is added to the donor’s phone bill and processed along with their other monthly charges. The money goes to the Mobile Giving Foundation; they provide the donation to your charity at the end of the billing period.

Advantages for donors:

  • Quick
  • User-friendly (just text the key word and then confirm their zip code)

Disadvantages for charity:

  • Requires application for an account with the Mobile Giving Foundation
  • You pay annual fee
  • You pay additional fee per key word
  • Takes longer to get donations paid

TEXT TO DONATE  (form based)

The donor sends a text message to your keyword; this is tied to a form on your website. The donor gets a link taking them to a simplified donation page where they can make their gift.

Disadvantages for donors:

  • More steps for donors to complete, but conversion rates are very high

Advantages for charity:

  • Less expensive
  • Donations are processed immediately through your fundraising platform
  • You can send automated follow-up messages to donors to remind folks to follow through if they got distracted midway through the process. “This is a friendly reminder to complete your pledge. Please visit ______ to feed a family today.”

Outbound (you text the donor) uses

Be intentional.

This is powerful and personal, but it can backfire if it comes across as intrusive. Always ask yourself: “Is this the best way to communicate this with this donor?” If it is, proceed. But make sure you’re using accepted best practices.

Get permission.

You need to have donors opt in to receive texts from you, just as this is important with email. That way they won’t unsubscribe, and you won’t get in trouble with spam filters. For this to happen, you must make a persuasive case to opt in. For example:

  • Before an event, ask folks to opt in to receive texts with updates (e.g., new auction items are added for bidding; new speakers or entertainers are added)
  • At an event, ask folks to opt in to receive texts when certain things are happening (e.g., they’ve been outbid on a silent auction item.)
  • At a volunteer activity, ask folks to opt in to learn about upcoming activities
  • During an advocacy campaign, ask folks to opt in to receive breaking news about outcomes or next steps
  • After a survey, ask folks to opt in to get the results

Be kind.

Make sure you have an easy way for people to opt out. Do this in the first text you send; periodically remind them how to do this within the body of your text. If you’re sensitive to donor needs this way, you’re likely to keep them. They’ll just drop off your texting list, rather than getting so frustrated they leave you entirely.

Don’t overwhelm.

If you send folks unnecessary (from their perspective) texts, they’ll get irritated. Sending too many texts is a recipe for folks to begin to ignore them. Send them when you have an emergency need, where you need responses to be timely. Make sure the impact of your donor responding will be significant. For example, don’t simply text folks to join your FB page. Do text folks if you have an urgent need for them to contact their congressperson or sign a petition.

How to Get Started

1. Choose a key word.


  • Choose a simple keyword. This is not like choosing a password. You don’t want multiple cases + numbers + symbols. Less is more.
  • A word + abbreviation EatSFFB
  • A word + numbers Feed30


  • Choose a long keyword. If it’s hard to type, or difficult to remember, you risk typos.
  • Tip: Don’t use two dictionary words together. Phones will autocorrect. This frustrates your donor.

2. Test your key word.

Type it on different phones, e.g. Android and iPhone. See if you get auto-corrected. Or if the users struggle to remember the word, make typos or encounter any difficulty. Review the feedback from you testers and adjust accordingly. Test again until all obstacles have been removed.

3. Finalize your key word.

You must claim this through your provider.

4. Spread your key word.

  • Write it down: put a texting call to action — “Text EatSFFB to 50551” — everywhere you can think of.
  • Say it out loud: include in a short video on your website, on screen at your event, in media ads or PSAs, or livestreaming on FB or other social media outlets.
  • Display in print ads: include in newspapers, other publications, or on billboards, banners or bus shelters.
  • Add to your direct mail campaign: include as an option on your remit piece, in addition to sending a check, giving stock, making a gift from a donor advised fund, or going to your website.
  • Remind donors multiple times: make your texting campaign multi-channel, so that each channel reinforces the other.

A word on donor preferences

After donors give, send a follow-up asking them their preferences for future communications. If they choose text, you’re free to send more messages via this medium.  Such occasional updates about how their gift has been put to use, thank you notes or videos, and other touchpoints essential to effective donor retention.

Hope you found this tip helpful as we move toward a more digital-first world!