There are just shy of 200,000 registered charities in the United Kingdom. Between them, they spend around £80 billion per annum. While a large chunk of this money is spent on direct service provision and staffing costs, the third sector also spends a huge amount on marketing campaigns, both to increase donations and to engage their supporters.
SMS marketing for charities is coming of age as an important tool for reaching supporters and benefactors alike, and there are a few important things that charities should be bearing in mind if they are to make the most out of this fact.
Involving Your Supporters More Deeply
Anybody who has worked on campaigns, especially in the voluntary sector, will know the importance of engaging and involving an organisation’s support base. To engage a target audience, charities are having to work harder and harder as highly bespoke or individualised products have become the norm. Marketing campaigns have to be imaginative, but they also have to speak directly to their target audiences. An online SMS system is an ideal way to do this.
There are several particularly useful areas where SMS services can add a lot of value to a charity’s marketing campaigns. One is in donor ‘thank you’ messages – letting donors know how their £5 or £50 has been spent means they are more likely to donate again. Another is issue-specific messages, appeals or updates. This positive feedback loop has to follow a donation in a timely fashion, and likewise, follow-up messages need to be impeccably timed. SMS systems excel at both of these. Charities can powerfully engage their supporters by showing them they are valued, by giving them ‘ahead of the news’ updates, and by reaching them at the ideal moments to maximise campaign effectiveness.
Everyone Has a Smartphone
Well, perhaps not everyone. However, the vast majority of British mobile phone users own a smartphone and these devices play an ever more central role in peoples’ lives. According to Ofcom, not only do two-thirds of Brits own a smartphone but, in 2015, these devices overtook laptops as the most popular way of surfing the internet. People are not just doing this via their mobile browser, but using an array of social media apps.
This is all highly relevant for SMS marketing. Phone users tend to flick between social media, web browser and SMS apps, meaning that an online SMS campaign can and should be integrated with these important platforms. This means the content of an SMS message can be far more than it could have been just four or five years ago. By engaging a supporter to follow through to a link or a piece of multimedia content, charities can keep their supporters interested, and thus ‘tuned in’.
Again, timing is important here and a strong SMS campaign will be one that is well set up in advance. By using online SMS services to create and organise SMS messages ahead of a campaign, charities can ensure that a campaign does not become an unmanageable burden on their resources. At the same time, the ability to queue and time-optimise SMS messages takes a lot of the work out of SMS marketing.
The Power of Sharing
Perhaps the most direct and profound influence that hand-held technology has had in the last decade or so is the proliferation of sharing. First through text messages, later via social media and now through the sending of all imaginable multimedia; from videos to voice recordings to news clippings, people are sharing ever more via their phones. The implications for SMS marketing are huge.
Again, a well-timed mail-out via SMS can turn into a social media ‘storm’ or the viral sharing of your marketing campaign. In combination with the increasingly integrated way that people are using phones, the growing culture of sharing via mobile phones can supercharge a charity’s campaign, donations drive or media push.
These changes in the way people interact with technology mean, of course, that SMS marketing needs to change in content as well. For charities, this means a whole new breed of marketing officers, plugged into social media and switched on to what their organisation’s support base are likely to engage with by sharing, clicking through to or otherwise interact with. This, in turn, is driving a cultural change in what charities’ marketing campaigns look like.
Direct Service Provision
Having looked at the huge array of new trends shaping what a charity can do with online SMS for their marketing campaign, it is worth also taking a look at what they can do to advertise services or engage clients. There is a small but growing number of charities engaged in direct service provision that are finding SMS to be a powerful way of engaging their clients in ways that were before far more difficult. An example is an East London housing trust, which very effectively used SMS services in a drive to connect their clients with local community meetings and in turn engage those clients with their community development.
The implications of this sort of engagement could be very exciting for charities that work with hard-to-reach parts of their communities. Issuing reminders to participants to attend classes, encourage closer engagement and foster a trusting relationship are all things that third-sector providers have struggled with since time immemorial. A good SMS system gives these charities a way to work with their clients using a new personalised approach that really works, is easier and can really make a difference.
Staying on Trend
As the smartphone market changes, we can expect SMS functionality to change with it. This is sure to open up new ways of communicating for those charities willing to stay on trend. While many of the UK’s several hundred thousand third-sector organisations are far too small and resource-stretched to dedicate staff to researching these trends, there is a wealth of know-how out there for those looking out for it. By building informal networks and using social media to keep track of the innovators in both business and the major charities, smaller organisations can reinvent their marketing campaigns in surprisingly effective ways.