September 20, 2023

As texting has become a more common medium for fundraising and engagement for nonprofits, KQED in San Francisco has seen success with their conversational tactics that go beyond basic fundraising. They adopted a conversational approach that introduced donors to texts from the station quickly. From immediately asking them if they had questions about their membership to increasing donations on Giving Tuesday and updating their membership, KQED has seen impressive results with their human approach to texting.

KQED uses Hustle for peer-to-peer texting from a full 10-digit local number, and they don’t use text-to-give with short codes. “Every text from KQED comes from a person,” explains Taylor Beard, Associate Director of Direct Response Fundraising at KQED, “It’s always a ‘human texting to a human.’” For smaller campaigns, Beard and her department manage all the responses. For big campaigns sending tens of thousands of texts, they use a call center.

This personalized approach helped KQED preemptively answer donor questions and alleviate donor confusion, but also serves to acquire new sustaining donors and update sustaining payments. Beard and her department manage three recurring, monthly efforts and their responses.

KQED’s Recurring Texting Campaigns:

1. New-Member-Welcome Text

Once a month, Beard pulls all new members to send them a welcome text, asking if they have any questions about their membership. This simple message to an important monthly segment has many benefits. “It gets us in front of people with questions,” Beard says. This text helps KQED fix names, addresses, wrong numbers, and answer questions about premiums.

Mobile phone displaying welcome text from KQED.

“If you’re proactive in reaching out to them,” Beard adds, “[It] lets people know we will be texting them going forward [and] they’ll be more comfortable receiving and then responding to text messages. Later, when KQED sends them a text asking for a donation or to update their credit card, they’ve already received a text from us.”

2. Reminder Text During Renewal Month

KQED also sends a monthly text to donors who are in their month of renewal. This hasn’t gotten a very high response, but it provides a different medium to remind people who have forgotten. About 3% have responded to the text saying they will renew, and it also provides another opportunity for the donors to ask a question.

Mobile screenshot with text notification of membership expiration.

3. A Very Successful Monthly Recapture Campaign

KQED’s third and most successful effort is a monthly text to sustainers whose cards on file have failed to charge. “The response rate shocked me,” Beard admitted. In the most recent campaign, 22% of declining sustainers responded saying they would update; of more than 700 decline texts, within 48 hours KQED had seen 100 donors update their cards, almost 15%.

Mobile screenshot of text with card-expiration notification

KQED has approximately 2%-3% opt out rate, though the first messages sent produced more. This gentle, conversational approach is important to discourage opt-outs. “People are really scared that people are going to be angry when you text them, but it really has dropped,” Beard says, though it’s important to continuously monitor the opt-out responses.

Try Testing These SMS Campaigns:

Test a new-member-welcome text.

This can help you get ahead of questions and concerns from new members while diminishing opt-outs, since you’re not asking for money. This initial text helps get subscribers comfortable with receiving texts from you.

Text important information.

KQED’s audience development team used texting to immediately disseminate information like new COVID guidelines during the pandemic.

Text fundraising campaigns that have a strategic approach.

KQED had a campaign goal of 150 new sustainers in July. With emails going to lapsed and current one-time donors, they acquired more new sustainers from texts than from emails. KQED also saw success with a basic Giving Tuesday text, reminding subscribers of the importance of support on this day with a simple texted ask.

Test SMS vs. MMS if you have the time to do that.

KQED sends images of pledge premiums during membership drives. Though there isn’t a huge response, it provides another engagement opportunity.

Since the responses you expect to manage from a texting campaign will dictate what you can send, start by finding a segment you want to try to reach with a manageable amount of phone numbers. The amount of response, and the more varied the replies will determine how long it will take for your team to manage the responses. Remember: A human response is key. 

“If you have a smaller audience segment and staffing capacity, it’s something you should try,” Beard says.

The point is to test in order to find opportunities to use SMS to reach your audience. Find a manageable segment, craft your message, and deliver it with a human touch. Even this video that KQED created for Mr. Rogers Day – which was sent with no ask or call-to-action – provided a way to engage with donors through a new channel through an established medium.

Most important of all: Make the exchange feel human.