Is the Humble Text Message a Cause Marketing Star?

I’m reevaluating my thinking on text messages (SMS) for cause marketing. Previously, SMS only meant text-to-give for me. And unless you used SMS after some horrific disaster, or at a concert displayed it on a jumbotron at some major sporting event it wasn’t very useful for cause marketing.

However, the more I learn about text and the more I sober up to the reality of adoption rates on things like smartphone apps, location-based services, QR codes and other mobile gadgetry in general, the more I appreciate the simple text message.

  • I know a lot of people who know nothing about iPhone apps, QR codes and location-based services, but know how to use SMS. I bet you do too. It’s something my eight year old son and 85 year old godmother can both do.
  • The fact that you don’t have to learn anything about text to use it is really the beauty of it. Most phones push text messages so they’re hard to miss. Compare that to getting someone to download your app. Or explaining Foursquare to a newbie. Or explaining what a QR code is.
  • Maybe that’s why 97% of mobile subscribers will read a text message within four minutes of receipt. I mean, WOW. Forget talking to my two kids. I should just text them!

Nevertheless, we should be careful not to oversell SMS. Hipcricket Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Hasen, a SMS campaign veteran, puts it nicely: use SMS for reach and something else for a “richer media experience” (e.g. landing page, QR code, mobile app). He also says that for the companies he works with SMS is best for special offers or time sensitive deals.

So while SMS is the knock that just about every consumer will answer, they’re particular on what they will let in.

Which brings us to how text messages can be used for cause marketing (beyond text-to-give). For this, I turned to Douglas Pank who founded MobileCause, a company focused on providing mobile solutions to nonprofits and companies.

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Doug agreed that nonprofits generally think of just text-to-give when it comes to SMS. But it could be used for a lot of things.

  • Communication – An environmental nonprofit could use SMS to update supporters on key activities or “breaking news.”
  • Outreach – An agency working to stop teen pregnancy could use text messages to target teens, the most common and responsive users of mobile devices.
  • Information Gathering – A local YMCA could poll members on their choice for gym hours over the holidays.
  • Activism – A city hospital could use SMS to urge supporters to call their governor, congressman or senator to weigh in on an important piece of legislation.

There are a lot of good ways to use SMS, and nonprofits should encourage their donors and supporters to opt-in for text messages.

But to make this a cause marketing effort, nonprofits should partner with companies that boast a long list of SMS subscribers. The company could tap its list to help a nonprofit with communication, outreach, information gathering, activism and even fundraising.

  • SMS could inform customers of an in-store promotion for your cause with a link to more information about your mission. (SMS is the QR code you type instead of scan!)
  • A point of sale or purchase triggered promotion could include a keyword and short code that would reward donors with a special offer or discount, which they can access right from their phones.
  • A text from the company could ask customers to give by replying with a provided keyword and short code to make an instant donation.

There’s a lot of potential with SMS. Nonprofits should build their own SMS subscriber base. But another option is to explore the potential of SMS with current business partners and make a point to target new partners that are known for their SMS savvy.

I believe in the future of location-based services, QR codes and smartphone apps. Over 100 years ago, the early inventors and makers of the automobile believed in its future too. But good, strong horses were needed until the age of the automobile arrived. The same is true of SMS. It’s the best thing we have right now and it can do more than we think.

SMS is a good, sturdy workhorse. We shouldn’t look this gift horse in the mouth.

This post originally appeared on and is reposted her with persmission.


Mrs Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare6 years ago

I get these text messages all the time and they are annoying! -.-
Sure, if it something that means anything to me, then I do read it, perhaps even consider it, but thats like 1% of the time, and the rest I just ignore.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Abbe A.
Azaima A6 years ago

I don't like this idea. I'd treat it as junk mail.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Arjen Lentz
Arjen Lentz6 years ago

Communicating is one thing, marketing another. Yes marketing is communicating, but I do not want any business to send me marketing SMS, and that's non-negotiable. Luckily in my country (Australia) there's legislation that enables me to indeed keep free of it.
Just imagine getting interrupted by those things. yes you may now respond within 4 minutes, but that's because the message might actually be from someone you know and want to interact with, not some business plugging their wares (however important they might think they are).
You would soon hate SMS. Don't let a medium (and our lives) be destroyed by spam.

Steve Gomer
Steve Gomer6 years ago

Yeah, I agree, These people who answer their text within 4 minutes are doing so , because they are getting these message from people they already know(and wish to hear from) not strangers or marketers. Marketing is already over bearing as it is. stop with the trying to reach us ever second of every day.
If I get some message on my phone, it just pisses me off, cause who pays for that message(but me)? I don't wish to pay for text messages coming from some dam marketing firm or company who wants to increase his or her sales.

I don't use text,for the same reason someone else gave, it costs more money for each text message you send or receive. I have even told my kids , don't try texting me,cause I feel texting is stupid. Call me , or leave me alone. simple enough. That is what phones are for in the first place.

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons6 years ago

I don't use text message on my phone because it cost an additional fee each month. that is each month forever. Its not that much but every bit counts and its one more thing I can save on.

Thomas Michael
Thomas Michael6 years ago

Less elaborate web designs would be much more favourable than dependence of mobile telephone radiation. I notice that this website keeps loading data ages after being complete, the same as the newsletter does. That should be improved to allow faster communication.

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado6 years ago

Communication via text messages is an easy way to contact friends. Call for urgent messages. Of course learning how to is dependent on the model of phones used.

Rachel Beckford
Rachel Beckford6 years ago

Our mail box and email in-boxes are already inundated with requests for gifts. I don't know how to text and don't plan on learning so maybe its good to have requests come to me by text message since I just ignore them (would that text would replace mail and email requests so I wouldn't be bothered at all).