Jul 30 2015

Nonprofit Text Messaging Campaigns That Work

From churches to museums, nonprofits are bolstering their engagement efforts, one text at a time.

While their causes, interests and intents may vary, members of the nonprofit community are linked by one thing: mobile technology.

Sixty-four percent of American adults own a smartphone, a Pew Research Center report found, and 46 percent of them say it is something they “couldn’t live without.”

For nonprofit organizations looking to connect with supporters, members and volunteers, that level of dependence represents a growing opportunity for mobile engagement, especially through widely used smartphone features such as text messaging.

Testing the power of mobile, Palermo Bible Family Church (PBFC) in California recently began reaching out to church members via text messaging. According to a post on Church Tech Today, one of BizTech’s 25 Must-Read Nonprofit IT Blogs, the church implemented its PBFCconnect texting program to share information about services, cancellations and events like its Father’s Day celebration.

“This was our first real big event while using PBFCconnect and it was our largest!” said PBFC’s Daniel Jacobsen, who spoke with Church Tech Today about the texting program. “We had a great turnout, and I do believe PBFCconnect was influential in the success of the event.”

The Brooklyn Museum in New York took a more interactive approach to mobile engagement, creating the ASK texting app to connect museum visitors with members of its audience engagement team. App users send the team photographs of specific art pieces so museum staff can answer questions and conduct meaningful discussions about them.

Shelley Bernstein, vice director of digital engagement and technology, and Sara Devine, manager of audience engagement and interpretive materials, described lessons learned during app testing in an interview with Museum 2.0:

The pilots showed us visitors were looking for a personal connection with our staff, wanted to talk about the art on view, and wanted that dialogue to be dynamic and speak to their needs directly. We started to look to technology to solve the equation. In pilot testing, we found that enabling visitors to ASK via mobile provided the personal connection they were looking for while responding to their individual interests.

The Brooklyn Museum’s BKM Tech blog follows ASK’s development, detailing the effort that’s gone into every aspect of its design. Tests of the app’s opening prompt and the staff’s first messages to users revealed that beyond authoritative, trustworthy information, museum visitors crave immediate responses, succinct messages and a conversational tone. The audience engagement team also discovered that asking users questions led to deeper discussions.

The museum team’s findings are in line with Mobile Commons’ list of mobile engagement best practices, which suggests that the use of pictures, a strong call to action, two-way questions and personalized communication are keys to success. Palermo Bible Family Church’s focus on timely, relevant messaging also hit the nail on the head, according to SimpleTexting’s engagement guide for churches.

For the nonprofit community at large, the lesson here is that texting campaigns can be worthwhile, so long as careful consideration goes into their planning and execution. In other words, don’t phone it in.

Milenko Bokan/ThinkStock

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