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HOW TO: Launch a Group Text Messaging Campaign for Your Nonprofit for Free

July 7, 2010

[tweetmeme] I like to think of group text messaging campaigns as the e-newsletter of the Mobile Web – just much shorter. Over the last decade nonprofit communicators have been perfecting e-newsletters to drive traffic to their organization’s website, blog, Facebook Page, etc. and to keep supporters informed and engaged. Now that same concept is emerging in mobile communications. Text messaging campaigns help keep supporters engaged and informed, and can significantly increase traffic to nonprofit mobile websites and smartphone Apps.

In my research of nonprofits using mobile technology, it’s clear that mobile technology has been slow to catch on in the nonprofit sector compared to the business and higher education sectors. Nonprofits were the absolute first to utilize social networking sites. They were getting creative and pioneering MySpace in 2005 and Facebook in 2006 long before corporate brands and universities, but that hasn’t been the case with mobile technology.

Mostly I think it’s because nonprofits think mobile technology tools are too expensive. That was true a year ago, but not today. Text-to-Give and custom smartphones App vendors are still relatively expensive, but there are many free or low-cost mobile website and group texting vendors out there today. Nonprofits might also think that the Mobile Web is a somewhat abstract concept that they need to focus on in a year or two, but as of  today one in five Americans now access the mobile web daily. They also send 2.5 billion text messages each day with an open-rate that currently hovers at about 90%. The Mobile Web is not the Next Big Thing. It’s already here.

As a follow-up to my post on how to launch a mobile website for $8 a month, this post illuminates how you can launch a group text messaging campaign for free using TextMarks Lite (with ads) or FrontlineSMS (without ads):

TextMarks :: Free, Web-based, Ad-Supported, United States Only

1. You need a mobile phone number to create an account. It’s OK to use your personal mobile number because TextMarks Lite will not text or call you, but I am big believer that nonprofit communicators should be writing smartphones for key communications and development staff into to next year’s budget. 🙂

2. Once you create your account, grab your TextMark and craft your Text Mark Response. Your TextMark functions as a Short Code and should ideally match your website and social networking profile URLs. Your TextMark response should let subscribers know the frequency of texts sent and should also include a link to your mobile website including “http://” so that the website link is automatically hyperlinked. Example:

3. Start building your mobile list and sending messages. Subscribe to my TextMark campaign to experience how it works and see my Mobile Technology Best Practices for Nonprofit Organizations for detailed information about frequency of text messages, how to build your list, and other best practices. Please note that TextMarks Lite version only allows 105 characters instead of the full 160, and 40-character ads are placed at the bottom of each text message. Compared to other vendors, their rates for ad-free, 160-character full version are very affordable. Personally, the ads don’t bother me, but you can decide for yourself by experiencing my ad-supported TextMarks campaign [see image for example of ads]. Also, the market is becoming increasingly flooded with low-cost vendors and this trend will likely continue. You can download your mobile list from TextMarks if you every decide to move to another vendor.

TextMarks Dashboard

FrontlineSMS :: Free for Nonprofits, Software, No Ads, Intermational

I am not a nonprofit so I can’t test FrontlineSMS myself, but the product comes highly recommended. It is especially popular with grassroots organizations in the developing world because it is free and does not require an Internet connection. FrontlineSMS is an award-winning free, open source software that turns a laptop and a mobile phone into a central communications hub. Once installed, the program enables users to send and receive text messages with groups of people through mobile phones. To learn more:

WATCH :: Introduction to FrontlineSMS

Finally, just to clarify, group text messaging is also known as Simple Messaging Service, or SMS for short. Also, two well-known mobile technology vendors that serve the nonprofit sector are Mobile Commons and Mobilecause. They are much more expensive, but have top notch tool sets. Many small to medium-sized nonprofits can not afford these vendors, but at least through tools like TextMarks and FrontlineSMS, they can at least be early adopters.

Related Links:
10 Nonprofit Group Text Messaging Campaigns

HOW TO: Launch a Mobile Website for $8 a Month

Mobile Technology Best Practices for Nonprofit Organizations

Webinar :: How Nonprofits Can Successfully Utilize Group Texting, Mobile Websites, and Smartphone Apps

Mobile Technology for Nonprofit Organizations LinkedIn Group

2010 Nonprofit Text Messaging Benchmarks Report

21 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2010 10:05 am

    Thanks for the review. We have a lot of nonprofits using our service successfully, and as you point out, it’s a great way to reach a very wide audience.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:23 am

      Sure. 🙂 It’s easy to use and so far dependable.

      • July 7, 2010 1:02 pm

        Where do you get the phone numbers from? Do you buy a list or just slowly collect them. Do you ask for permission or just send a text blast?
        We are in the middle of a social media blitz competing in the pepsi refresh campaign, you can see the details at so far we have not considered texting but if it works without offending……

      • nonprofitorgs permalink
        July 7, 2010 1:12 pm

        Hi… it is against the law to buy mobile numbers… you have to build a list slowly. That’s why those adopt early will benefit the most. 🙂

  2. July 9, 2010 7:40 am

    We are going to start a mobile campaign in the next month or so, and are researching our options right now.

    One question that has come up is whether it is accepted/appropriate to assume that inviting a group to text a key word to a number to engage in one particular act grants blanket permission to add them to your text-mailing list for future texts about events, facts, etc.

    For example, if we invite people to text the word “organ” to a certain number to learn how to sign up on the state’s organ donor registry, do we assume permission to text them next month about our walk-a-thon, and the next month about something else?


  3. July 9, 2010 8:03 am

    Another question: Are text message marketing campaigns typically geared toward people with smart phones/web access? Should we assume people can usually click on a hyperlink in the message?

    Thank you,

  4. July 12, 2010 3:09 pm

    I think the key is to be a good citizen and send messages that you’d want to receive yourself. The rules do allow you to send follow-up messages to someone who texted into ORGAN on other topics, but if your message is considered spam by your users, you’ll end up alienating them, which is probably a bad thing.

    Re: hyperlinks, I think it depends on the market. If your target market is likely to have cell phones, then include a link. I’d suggest using a trackable link anyway so that you can see how many clicks you’re getting, and make the determination from there. You can assume that close to 100% of your text messages are read by the recipient.

  5. adé roots permalink
    August 14, 2010 6:37 am


  6. September 28, 2010 4:56 am

    This is very exciting. We will be sure to start using it very soon. Thanks for posting!!

  7. October 14, 2010 6:37 pm

    will keep checking in, looks interesting!

  8. November 12, 2010 6:15 pm

    There are alternative free group text services you could use as a non-profit, such as (

    You can either send people an invite to their phone, which they have to accept, or they can send a “subscribe” to your pulse.

    Tatango is another one.

  9. April 28, 2011 7:44 am

    Check us out

  10. November 3, 2011 5:57 pm

    Text Marketing is the future of B2B marketing. 95% of Texts get read.


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