My recent crash course in mobile marketing, SMS text campaigns and non profit rules

July 31, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I had my first experience as a mobile marketer!  We did a text messaging campaign at the recent ELCA Youth Gathering, which drew  37,000 teenagers and their chaperones to New Orleans last week around the theme of “Jesus, Justice, Jazz”.  It was — as you can imagine– a mega event, complete with christian rock, a three-story neon cross, and inspiring speakers with their contracts freshly signed.  Needless to say, its hard to break through this Lutheran Disneyland with your message.   Our message?  your church does advocacy and cares about justice, and you can get involved.   Our mode?  The text.

After some harried web searching, thank god for Mobile Active’s list, and this great how-to primer, it seemed there are really only two vendors out there doing the non-profit text thing: Mobile Accord and Mobile Commons.  We went for the Mgive platform from Mobile Accord because it was cheaper (they are based in Denver), while the Mobile Commons (NYC baby!) had more services to offer that we did not really need.    These mobile programs are set up mainly to solicit donations, usually $5 off the phone bill, the main example out there is Alicia Key’s Keep a Child Alive mobile campaign.   However, the ELCA is a church, and 501-c-3, but does not file a 990 –  and therefore we are not elegible to recieve donations through the Mobile Giving Foundation.   Thus we could not purchase any of the packages offered by mGive set up to get donations.

It worked out though – we just bought a keyword, “Justice” for $200 and then paid .5 per text sent.  We sent out one text every day of the conference.

We thought we were geniuses, “oh these youth, they will love to text us and we will capture their data forever” but it was not so simple.  Of the 37,000 people there, only 4,100 opted-in to our campaign.

Our problems:

  • Too many asks — not only did we want them to text, we wanted them to do a role play about homelessness, write their senator, commit to learning about human trafficking in their community….  we competed with ourselves!  Bad bad bad.  But somehow we could not stop.
  • We asked them to text from our booth in the convention center. People don’t really want to text at a booth.  But they will text when they are sitting down watching something.   Our best means of getting people to opt in was through when we had workshops where we talked to the youth.  Then we said, “take out your phones, “Text Justice to 464329”.   And like little happy robots, they did it.
  • Sell the message not the tactic. We had two ways of asking them to opt-in.  Sometimes we said, if you text, you can be entered to win prizes during the Youth Gathering like a snuggie.   Other times we said, if you text you can stay in touch with the ELCA and learn more ways to be involved in our advocacy, hunger and justice work.   These were save the world youth!  They wanted to stay involved.  They were not fooled by snuggies.
  • We did not anticipate that these young Christians would have been told to leave their cell phones at home! Yup.  Their militant youth leaders set rules: no cell phones.  Not sure how to get around that……
  • People were more suspicious than we thought they would be, they thought we would spam them.  Fair enough. Its a new medium.  But we needed some talking points about that.
  • Intergration — we did not get fully integrated into the webpage and the other organizers and social media of the gathering.   We started too late, and we did not pound the pavement convincing everyone else to get on board.   We told ourselves, this is pilot, next time… but ultimately a missed opportunity.

All in all, a good experience, and we will continue to learn from texting this nascent network.  Besides, if all 37,000 had texted us it would have broke the bank…. and that would not have been good.


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  1. Thanks for providing this anecdotal case study. Hearing the things that went well, and not so well helps everyone.

    Good luck next time!

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