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M+R Strategic Services

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Text Messaging: A Tool for Immediate Engagement

Excerpts from 2010 Nonprofit Text Messaging Benchmarks


After a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, media, government officials, and users of social networking sites urged others to make charitable gifts to relief organizations. But there was something new about these pleas to give. For the first time in the United States, text messaging ranked alongside Web sites and telephone numbers as a primary giving medium. After the disaster struck, the American Red Cross worked with mGive to set up a text donation program that resulted in more than one million Americans donating over $26 million within nine days of the disaster through $10 text donations. In fact, the Red Cross's mobile fundraising campaign for Haiti emergency response efforts is the largest grossing to date.

The Haiti earthquake marked a turning point in mobile giving. It showed that text messaging can be a far-reaching tool for immediate engagement. Nearly 90 percent of Americans own mobile phones, and text messaging has become an all but ubiquitous part of American life. Because mobile phones are the one device that most people keep handy at all times, text messaging offers nonprofit organizations a powerful technology for fundraising, recruitment, and engagement.

American nonprofits are beginning to utilize text messaging (also known as SMS, which stands for "short messaging service") more than any other mobile phone technology because of its versatility and market penetration. In addition to its fundraising potential, text messaging can be used to communicate breaking news and information, prompt supporters to call lawmakers, or deliver information about the positions of a candidate or corporation. ...

Text messaging is especially well-suited for certain types of advocacy engagement, such as call-in alerts. At the same time, text messaging has substantial limitations. To start, the 160-character limit of a text message leaves little space to make a case for giving or taking action. Furthermore, in most cases, American mobile carriers charge both the sender and recipient for each text message. In terms of fundraising, it wasn't until late 2007 that organizations could solicit donations from subscribers in the U.S., and even now supporters can only donate in amounts of $5 and $10.

In its current form, text messaging is most effective as part of a multi-channel communications strategy. For the foreseeable future, e-mail, Web, and direct mail are likely to continue to be the primary means by which organizations communicate with supporters, raise money, and generate action. However, text messaging can reinforce messages from other channels, provide an immediate engagement opportunity in urgent situations, and serve as a key part of a broader communications strategy.

The 2010 Nonprofit Text Messaging Benchmarks report is the first of its kind. ... The aim of this study is two-fold: 1) To provide benchmarks and metrics by which nonprofit organizations can measure their success with text messaging; and 2) to illustrate the various ways in which organizations are using text messaging. ...

Key Findings

  • Among the organizations that participated in this study, over 80 percent of text subscribers were recruited via an online program. However, some organizations—especially those with a strong presence at events (notably concerts) or with a television advertising budget—can generate a sizeable number of recruits through these "offline" channels.
  • Text messaging lists grew at an annual rate of 49.5 percent. This rate is quite high, in large part because many partner organizations are building their text lists by drawing from existing supporters.
  • The annual churn rate for text lists was 30.7 percent. The benchmark text message unsubscribe rate was 0.69 percent. Unsubscribe rates varied somewhat by messaging type, with fundraising solicitations seeing the highest unsubscribe rate of 0.92 percent.
  • The response rate for call-in advocacy text messages (text messages urging a supporter to make a call to a decision maker on behalf of the organization) was 4.7 percent—nearly six times the 2009 benchmark response rate of 0.82 for call-in advocacy e-mails. This rate is impressive, and indicative of the power of text messaging to generate an immediate response.

Read the complete report

Michael Amoruso and Jessica Bosanko, M+R Strategic Services, with Katrin Verclas,
© 2010, M+R Strategic Services and Excerpted from 2010 Nonprofit Text Messaging Benchmarks; excerpted with permission.

M+R Strategic Services provides highly tailored campaign strategy and services to leading nonprofits working on behalf of the public interest. connects people, organizations, and resources using mobile technology for social change.

How Cross Promotions Can Help Your Organization

Adapted from the white paper by M+R Strategic Services

On-line Monthly Giving - A Review of Nonprofit Programs

Monthly giving (also known as a recurring donors or sustainers program) has come a long way from the early days of child sponsorship.

Now a centerpiece of many direct-marketing programs, monthly giving provides a reliable, low-cost stream of revenue that sustains ongoing programs. It also increases the annual value (and loyalty!) of low-dollar donors. And now that it is possible to handle both sign-ups and payments on-line, one-time donors are becoming recurring donors at a faster pace, boosting retention rates and helping organizations cut down on billing costs.

This is all great news for nonprofits. But what  else do we know (or need to know) about on-line monthly giving? How should you manage your program? How can you measure success? What are your peers doing?

Should you consider yourself lucky to get $10/month from your recurring donors, or are you in urgent need of an upgrade strategy?

We surveyed nearly 70 organizations and analyzed the on-line donor data of 8 large nonprofits to get some answers.

Summary of Key Findings


  • Some organizations send their first solicitation within eight weeks of a new registration. Others focus their timing on the date of a donor's first gift, and others run annual or quarterly recruitment campaigns.
  • With an average monthly growth rate of 11 percent, the monthly donor programs we reviewed grew by 132 percent each year.


  • The groups we surveyed retained 70 percent of their on-line monthly donors in their first year, but retention rate dropped to 52 percent the second year.
  • On average, 12 percent of on-line monthly donors missed at least one monthly payment in two years.


  • The average on-line monthly gift (for all groups except international aid organizations) was $16. The average monthly gift for international aid organizations was significantly higher at $28.
  • On average, 42 percent of on-line monthly donors had given a one-time on-line gift before becoming monthly donors. Almost 20 percent gave a one-time on-line gift within a year after they signed up.

Surveying the Landscape: What Are Other Groups Doing?

The competitive landscape for monthly giving is all over the map; it is difficult to pinpoint a baseline or prevailing strategy.

Our survey revealed interesting trends in monthly donor management, but the main conclusion is that there is not, as of yet, a standard practice for promoting and managing monthly giving programs.

Promoting the Program. Navigation items promoting monthly giving on Web page(s) were our survey respondents' marketing method of choice, followed by e-mail appeals and e-newsletter features. More than half of the groups featured monthly giving on their main donation pages. See the chart below for a breakdown of the popularity of various marketing channels.