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Getting Started with Text Messaging

Everyone seems to be talking about text messaging these days! With 95% of Americans owning a mobile phone, more of us are “meeting people where they are” by using mobile (SMS) as a vital component of an organization or campaign’s communications, fundraising, advocacy and field strategies. More and more nonprofit organizations and campaigns are realizing they need to include mobile (SMS) text messaging in their digital and campaign strategies. 

There are two types of mass texting that can be utilized by your organization. Broadcast SMS has been around for 10+ years but didn’t begin to be utilized by major organizations and campaigns until after 2012. Whereas Peer-to-Peer SMS made its first appearance during the 2016 election and is that “bright new shiny object” that organizations all feel they should be using because their major donors or board members keep asking. In 2018, we saw campaigns and organizations harness the organizing power that comes with being able to text message volunteers, donors, and supporters using both broadcast and peer-to-peer mobile platforms.

Both of these mobile (SMS) methods can increase your ability to engage and have an impact, but they need to be used strategically and have specific use cases. When used correctly, they can complement each other. However, often I see organizations using peer-to-peer inefficiently, leading them to use valuable staff time and pay more money then they would if they used a broadcast tool for the same tasks.

You need to be always aware of your resources: Time, People, and Money.

  • People: 
    • What is my current capacity? 
    • Do I have a staff person who can do the work and/or train volunteers? 
    • How many volunteers would I need?
  • Time:
    • Am I running a 6 month or a 12-month political campaign?
    • Is this for a special election, with only one month til the election?
    • Is this for a long-term campaign or mobile/digital program?
  • Money: 
    • What is my budget? 
    • Can I afford to hire contractors to send text messages?

Also think about your specific needs and the audiences you are trying to reach.


An application-to-person broadcast mobile platform can be similar to a fully functioning CRM you might use for email (Mobile Commons, Revere Suite, etc.). Only instead of sending an email message, you are sending a 160 character text or a logic-based text thread to your list, which allows you to engage and have an automated back & forth conversation with your supporters. That being said, there are some more basic barebones broadcast platforms that are just built for you to ONLY send a broadcast SMS to a large list.

Broadcast messages MUST be sent from a 6 digit short code that has been approved by all the mobile carriers for mass texting purposes. If you come across a broadcast mobile SMS provider that uses a regular phone # or long code to send text messages then your SMS messages are more likely to be blocked by carriers who mark mass texts as spam because it’s an FCC violation.

A Peer-to-peer mobile platform is both on a web platform and/or a mobile app. You set-up the messages and the lists via the platform, and then your staff or volunteers send each message via the mobile app to all your recipients.

Peer-to-Peer messages use a 10 digit long code (i.e., a regular phone #) because they have been able to operate in what I like to call a “gray area” within the FCC regulations which say each message must be sent individually. While they do message an established list of recipients, the messages are not sent all at once, and a person is technically hitting send on each message.

See Part II (coming next week) to learn about the other key differences between peer-to-peer and broadcast texting that will help you determine the best use cases and platform for your organization.

Sandi Fox has more than 11 years of digital strategy experience across multiple sectors, including government, political, non-profit, and private sectors. She has developed and managed innovative and effective digital outreach, advocacy and fundraising programs that emphasized results, engagement, deliverability, and audience growth.