The use of SMS for advocacy campaigns is soaring. Organizations are meeting people directly where they are — on their phones — by sending resources, calls-to-action, donation links, and more via a simple, effective text message.
VoterVoice’s 2023 Advocacy Benchmark Report found that over 6,460,000 advocacy texts were sent by VoterVoice clients in 2022. Action rates for SMS in 2022 were the highest ever for this channel at 2.2 percent. From January to June 2023 alone, our clients sent over 4.6 million advocacy texts with an open rate of nearly 6 percent and an action rate of 1.4 percent.
Not only are advocacy organizations using texts more for outreach, but our report findings indicate this technique is working, creating stronger digital communication strategies for campaigns and engaging and informing activists.
This trend is true for The Brady Campaign, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control and against gun violence. Director of Digital Strategy Renee Davidson said the organization’s SMS list has grown exceptionally over recent months. “The fact that it’s such a rapid tool, and time is of the essence with our work, makes it absolutely crucial in our overall strategy,” she says.
Implementing a new communications method can be daunting. To help you get started, we have outlined the why, what, how, and best practices of effective SMS in advocacy.
Why is SMS in Advocacy Campaigns Climbing?
The use of texts in advocacy campaigns is becoming more popular because it’s effective and immediate. For The Brady Campaign, it’s all about the rapid response element. When a horrific event occurs, the nonprofit sends notices and resources directly to people’s phones. The reach is instantaneous.
“People really want to do something at that moment,” Davidson says. “We leverage our SMS tools so that people get those updates from us and we say, ‘Hey, here’s how you can act.’”
According to the Activist Handbook, texts have high open rates, provide a personal touch to communications, and connect organizations with new audiences. The natural engagement of texting can also appeal to new groups, versus web platform-based communications.
How are Texts Mobilizing Advocates and Supporters?
One way activists take action is through donations, and SMS is an effective tool for that. Davidson says texting is a large revenue stream for her organization; for example, a text with a direct link to donate, along with other ways to take action. “It often is the first thing that many people do want to do, so we have that option,” she says.
Texts also mobilize supporters. The Activist Handbook cited The American Civil Liberties Union’s People Power program as an example. This initiative relied on peer-to-peer texting to recruit hosts and attendees to watch parties, ultimately landing on a 35 percent response rate after reaching out to 108,867 people, and 22 percent of them agreed to attend. The program ended up hosting 2,200 parties nationwide.
The Brady Campaign is mobilizing supporters similarly. Recipients can simply respond to a text and the campaign directly connects them with their elected official’s office with a written prompt of what to say about a piece of legislation and why it matters to them.
Davidson says the campaign also uses the peer-to-peer communications strategy to target and mobilize smaller, more engaged groups. It’s more labor intensive as it requires actual humans to text and respond to activists in real-time, but it’s effective in organizing protests or providing personal assistance.
Tips for Effective SMS Communications Strategy
Crafting an impactful SMS blast for advocacy can be challenging. You want to ensure the messaging captures attention, is informational and timely, provides a call to action, and clearly connects to the organization’s mission — all while having an emotional appeal.
Two ways to do this are by sending messages from actual people, and with storytelling. Peer-to-peer and human (rather than automated) responses can mobilize advocates. Storytelling is an added method that provides real-world context.
Davidson’s organization has heavily leaned into anchoring its communications work in storytelling. For instance, it has leveraged the voices of members of its executive team who are gun violence survivors. When the campaign worked to push the now-passed bipartisan Safer Communities Act, it shared their stories via text.
“I think we see higher success,” Davidson says. ”We’re really emotionally connecting with you, because that’s the real story. It’s about making sure people know why it’s so important to do this because of the real effects and the real lives that we can save.”
Compelling stories from members and advocates help your issues get noticed and stand out in a sea of issues vying for attention. “It’s important to remember who is benefiting from your advocacy efforts because at the heart of every good policy story is an individual,” says Angela Lee, manager of advocacy outreach and engagement at Goodwill Industries International. “Personal stories are much more memorable for anybody — not just lawmakers — and it gives elected officials a reason to become a champion.”
These tips bring together the critical nature of advocacy with the rapid response capabilities of text messaging and the ability to reach people directly. With the right strategy, messaging, and outreach, advocacy campaigns can truly benefit from the rising use of SMS.
Reach Your Advocates via Text With VoterVoice
It’s vital to have the right advocacy solution that allows you to seamlessly move from texting to email messaging to in-person engagement and connect with as many advocates as possible. VoterVoice provides SMS text messaging as one of many options for broadcasting advocacy alerts and other communications and provides industry comparison data for click, action, and failure rates for text messages.
VoterVoice has the tools you need to organize supporters and measure your impact, while ensuring that your message is heard by those with the power to enact change and drive results.
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