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  • Email vs. Text Marketing: A Comparison for Nonprofits

If your nonprofit’s emails are getting lost in supporters’ inboxes or your organization isn’t seeing the results it used to, you may be thinking about exploring other avenues. But email is a staple of nonprofit marketing, so can you afford to move away from it completely? Should you? Is there another channel you can use to get your messages across in a better way?

To explore the answers to these questions, this guide will compare two of the top marketing channels for nonprofits: emails and texts.

Every organization approaches marketing differently, and ultimately the best channels for you to use will depend on your nonprofit’s unique needs, resources, and base of supporters. This comparison will give you a better idea of each channel’s strengths so you can determine the best approach for your organization. Let’s start with a quick overview.

Key Similarities and Differences

Both email and text marketing are popular, effective strategies nonprofits use to promote events, raise funds, and build relationships with donors. 

However, there are a few key differences between the two channels that nonprofits should take into consideration:

  • Text messages have higher open and click-through rates. According to Mogli, SMS marketing’s 98% open rate and 19% click-through rate make it the ideal channel for reaching people quickly with important messages. Email open rates are much lower and harder to determine, making it more difficult for your nonprofit to know if your messages actually reach supporters.
  • Emails can include longer messages and more information. Text message best practices suggest limiting messages to 160 characters or less since exceeding this count can make a single message cost more. This means you have much less room for information in a text message than in an email. With emails, you can include much longer messages, multiple images, and attachments.
  • The two channels have different tones. Text messages feel more personal, while also having more of a real-time urgency, which makes it more natural to have genuine conversations with your recipients. Emails, on the other hand, tend to come off as more formal or professional, making them well-suited to more serious communications.

With these differences in mind, let’s explore how the strengths and drawbacks of each channel impact how your organization can use them for different purposes and occasions.

Where Text Marketing Shines

There are plenty of times when text marketing clearly takes the cake in terms of effectiveness. Because texts are casual, highly personal, and more likely to be opened and read than emails are, SMS is the perfect channel for:

  • Urgent updates and reminders: Since you know texts will be opened by most recipients (and opened quickly), texts should be your go-to channel for sending out any urgent updates, reminders, or calls to action. For example, if you want to inspire supporters to advocate for your cause by calling their senators before an important vote, sending a text will generate more immediate action than an email.
  • Getting quick feedback: Instead of sending out a long-winded survey via email to ask supporters or event attendees for feedback, just send a quick text that opens the door for quick, direct responses. This not only allows you to gather information on supporters’ opinions quickly, but it also helps you build rapport with individual donors.
  • Building personal connections: Unlike email, text messages naturally facilitate two-way conversations that help your nonprofit cultivate relationships with supporters over text. Take a look at the example below to see how easy it can be to encourage direct responses from recipients:

An image of a phone screen displaying a message from a nonprofit and a response from a donor.

To make the most of these benefits, use a text marketing app that allows you to easily manage conversations and automate outreach. The right app will help you segment supporters, add donor details to messages, and automatically record responses.

When Email Works Best

Any occasion that warrants longer, more professional messages than texts can provide is often better suited to email. This means that email tends to work best for:

  • Formal fundraising appeals: While you can ask for donations (and even accept them!) over text, email provides more space and flexibility for comprehensive, formal fundraising appeals. In an email, you have room to tell beneficiaries’ stories, highlight donors’ past support, and embed suggested donation amounts in your message.
  • Thank-you messages and donation receipts: Quick, casual thank-you texts are great for connecting with donors, but your thanks shouldn’t stop there. It’s often more effective to send a longer, more detailed thank-you email to show donors your heartfelt appreciation for their support. Plus, it’s easy to send donation receipts via email that donors will want to save for their records.
  • Information-heavy messages: Whenever you need to share a lot of information, links, or attachments, you should opt for email instead of text. Just be mindful that busy supporters aren’t likely to read the entirety of every long message! Highlight the most important points at the beginning of the email to make sure readers don’t miss them.

To find additional occasions where email may be more effective than text for your specific audience, you’ll need to experiment with both marketing channels. Monitor engagement metrics like click-through rates and conversion rates to see which channel works best for specific purposes.

How to Choose the Perfect Marketing Channel

Now that you know more about the benefits of each marketing channel, how do you choose the right one to use? Fortunately, you’re not limited to just one. As we’ve discussed, certain types of messages are best suited to one or the other, meaning you can incorporate both channels into your marketing strategy for different occasions.

In specific situations where you’re not sure which channel is best, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need to get this message out urgently?
  • What’s the tone of this message?
  • How long does this message need to be?
  • Am I looking for an immediate response?
  • What’s the goal of this message?

Use the answers to these questions as a guide. In general, messages that are urgent, casual, and short should be texts, whereas messages that need to be longer, more formal, or include more information can be emails. 

For example, say that your nonprofit is promoting an upcoming silent auction fundraiser. You might send out formal invitations with key event details via email, then send texts to tease some of the best auction items and remind guests to register to attend. After the auction, you might send casual texts to congratulate event volunteers on a successful auction and thank them for their help, then send longer thank-you emails to all auction guests that include photos and details about the total funds raised.

Whenever you’re faced with the decision to send an email or a text, don’t forget to take your audience’s communication preferences into account. Check your database for any recorded preferences for individual donors, then use demographic information and your nonprofit’s marketing engagement data to inform your decisions.

Building an Integrated Marketing Strategy

The best way to incorporate both email and text marketing into your nonprofit’s strategy is to use software that helps you streamline communications across both channels.

For example, if you use the Salesforce CRM to house your nonprofit’s donor data, you can leverage its automation features to create email streams triggered by donors’ actions. Then, look for a Salesforce SMS app that allows you to send both bulk and one-to-one text messages personalized with the donor data in your database. This technology also streamlines collecting and tracking the data you receive from inbound text messages, which helps you send even more relevant messages in the future.

Once you have the right systems in place, create a multichannel marketing plan that takes into account the goals of different messages and the channels they’re most suited to. You might create detailed calendars for each fundraising campaign that outline what type of message to send when and on which channel.

Don’t forget to segment supporters in your marketing plan to ensure every message is as relevant and personalized as possible, no matter which channel you use. Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit marketing plans suggests creating donor segments based on donation size and frequency, but you can also group supporters by engagement history, preferred communication channel, and more.

Ultimately, your organization should use both channels to connect with supporters and streamline donor communication. Finding the right balance between email and text messaging is up to you, so don’t be afraid to start experimenting! As long as you prioritize your donors’ preferences and the goals of your message, you’ll be in a good position to succeed.

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