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Haiti relief a ‘turning point’ for text-giving

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Text-messaging is especially well-suited for certain types of nonprofit advocacy engagement but has substantial limitations and is best used as part of a diversified communications strategy, a new report says.

In the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake, the American Red Cross teamed with mGive to set up a text-donation program that generated over $26 million through $10 text donations by over one million Americans within nine days of the disaster.

The event “marked a turning point in mobile giving,” says the report, 2010 Nonprofit Text Messaging Benchmarks, by M+R Strategic Services and MobileActive.org. “It showed that text messaging can be a far-reaching tool for immediate engagement.”

With nearly 90 percent of Americans owning mobile phones and text-messaging becoming “an all but ubiquitous part of American life,” the report says, nonprofits in the U.S. are starting to use text-messaging, also known as “short-messaging service,” or SMS, more than any other mobile-phone technology because of its “versatility and market penetration,” the report says.

The report, which studied six partner organizations that run strong text-messaging programs, found:

  • Over 80 percent of those groups’ text subscribers were recruited through an online program, although some groups can generate a sizable number of recruits through “offline” channels such as television or a presence at events.
  • Text-messaging lists grew at an annual rate of 49.5 percent, a number that is high in large part because groups are building their lists by tapping existing supporters.
  • The annual “churn” or erosion rate for text lists was 30.7 percent, while the benchmark rate for unsubscribing to text messages was 0.69 percent, with fundraising solicitations generating the highest unsubscribe rate of 0.92 percent.
  • The response rate for call-in advocacy text messages, urging a supporter to make a call on behalf of the organization, was 4.7 percent, nearly six times the rate a year earlier. “This rate is impressive, and indicative of the power of text messaging to generate an immediate response,” the report says.

“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,” the report says.

Still, it says, the 160-character limit of a text message “leaves little space to make a case for giving or taking action.”

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