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SMS is killer app for nonprofits: panelists

August 27, 2010

Reach users via SMS

Reach users via SMS

NEW YORK – While direct mail and online are the workhorses, SMS is increasingly assuming the same position that email did almost a decade ago.

During the “Why SMS is the Killer App for Charities” discussion at Nonprofit Mobile Day, panelists addressed the importance of nonprofits incorporating SMS into their mobile initiatives. The panel was moderated by Mobile Commerce Daily’s Dan Butcher.

“Everyone has their mobile device with them all the time – everybody carries it with them,” said Shira Simmonds, president of Ping Mobile, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. “Beyond donations, we specialize with working with clients and brands, on using mobile as a communication channel – as the main one between the audience.”

Text for awareness
According to Ms. Simmonds, it is important for nonprofits to personalize their SMS campaigns.

In addition, nonprofits can track and analyze their campaigns and learn which area codes have texted in the most and which keywords.

Using SMS, nonprofits can build databases of their supporters and donors and establish an interaction with them through simple text messages.

“By adding a unique keyword, we’re able to track the effectiveness of media channels,” Ms. Simmonds said. “We talked a lot as well, about cross media and it needs to be an integrated effort.

“Obviously if you do a double opt-in, it is a much more qualified list,” she said. “Even if it is a standard SMS campaign, you should do a double opt-in if you want to continually communicate with them.”

Ping Mobile recently worked with Sharsheret Breast Cancer Organization to promote breast health awareness.

The company launched a mobile alerts campaign with Sharsheret to remind users who opted-in about their next check-up.

Nonprofits who are looking into an SMS campaign, should define their goals, do not over communicate and limit messages to those requested by the user, per Ms. Simmonds.

Additionally, nonprofits should give users a choice and ask for and obtain consent via opt-in for all SMS campaigns, as well as provide an easy way to opt-out.

“Don’t forget the basics,” Ms. Simmonds said. “Mobile is extremely targeted so you want to make sure that you’re targeting the right message to the right people.

“SMS is a very cost-effective channel,” she said. “There is a lot of buzz around mobile, how inexpensive it is compared to other media channels.”

Mobile investment
Nonprofits who invest in SMS can build their database and have an opportunity to drive users to places, according to Ted Miller, president of Sumotext, Little Rock, AR.

“With all these channels, SMS is the one channel that’s going to give you ubiquity – the high read rates,” Mr. Miller said.

“If text-to-give is your focus, you should build an SMS database,” he said.

If nonprofits choose to use a standard-rated short code, they should give donors directions. The call-to-action has to have certain information on it.

A standard-rated short code does not require a double opt-in.

If nonprofits lets users opt-in via Web form, there needs to be a link to the terms and conditions.

“Not many people do that,” Mr. Miller said. “A lot of people in our space think sign-up sheets are fine – the carrier requirements are clear in all the playbooks.

“You can’t wait three months and enter your stuff on a spreadsheet,” he said. “The rules are either Web form or text.”

Integrated strategy
Christian Zimmern, vice president of the Mobile Giving Foundation said his company’s partners focus on the keyword and make that part of their strategy.

“When choosing a keyword, we advise that you use one that is close to your cause,” Mr. Zimmern said. “It should be easy to spell and announce.”

There are three main things that nonprofits need when running a standard SMS campaign, per Matthew Vallesky, senior marketing manager for mobile services at Neustar, Reston, VA.

When choosing a short code, it should have five to six digit numbers because it can work on all carriers.

For example, When American Idol asks viewers to text in to vote, it uses four numbers. However, this only works for AT&T.

There should also be an aggregator, a person or company that routes the traffic to and from the carrier for the short code.

Finally, there should be an application. Nonprofits should decide what they want the short code to do.

“SMS has become part of our social fabric,” Mr. Vallesky said. “There’s billions of messages being sent every day.

“You’re going to have to diversify what you’re doing in mobile as well,” he said.

Shared versus dedicated
Nonprofits can decide whether they want a shared or dedicated short code.

A shared short code has already been provisioned on the carrier’s networks and is shared by multiple companies.

A dedicated short code belongs solely to the nonprofit that provisioned it.

“You just have to see what works for your organization,” Mr. Vallesky said.

Here is Ping Mobile’s presentation:

Shira Simmonds, Ping Mobile

Here are some photos taken during the session:

Shira Simmonds, president of Ping Mobile

Shira Simmonds, president of Ping Mobile

From left: Tim Miller, Christian Zimmern, Matthew Vallesky
From left: Tim Miller, Christian Zimmern, Matthew Vallesky

Final Take
At the end of the session, Rimma Kats, editorial assistant of Mobile Commerce Daily interviewed Mr. Zimmern.

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Rimma Kats is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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