Craig Van Korlaar (TopNonprofits) Q: Jan, can you tell us a little about your organization and what you use text messaging for?

Jan Hack (Ann Arbor YMCA): The Ann Arbor YMCA is a charitable association of men, women, and children joined by a shared commitment to nurturing the potential of children and teens, promoting healthy living, and supporting our neighbors. Each day, we work to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, income, or background has the chance to learn, grow, and thrive.

The Ann Arbor YMCA’s mission is to put our core values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility into action through facilities and programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. We are an association made up of people from every walk of life, working side by side to strengthen communities.

Through the generous contributions of our donors, the YMCA is able to provide financial scholarships that enable all members of the community to enjoy YMCA programs. We have about 14,000 individual members, with 1800 people coming through our doors every day.

Q: How have you used text messaging to advance this mission?

Jan: Text message helps keep in touch with our members on a timely basis in the event of a facility or program disruption. We have several segmented lists so that only the relevant people are receiving messages. Our members are extremely sensitive to too many texts or emails, so managing volumes and targeting are very important to us.

Q: Joel, are there audiences text messaging works better for?

Joel: Text can work well for audiences of all ages, however, 68% of millennials text message on a daily basis, so the impact is especially strong with the younger generation. Millennials also prefer text messages for their mass-messaging capabilities.

Also, it should be noted that text messages have a 98% read rate and 90 second average response time.

Q: What are the laws/rules surrounding text messaging?

Joel: The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is all about how organizations must get permission from members (or consumers) to text message them and what is allowed after permission has been granted. The TCPA requires that the sender must obtain express consent before sending text messages.

Also, the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), which was created by the wireless carriers, has regulations such as the disclosures required when promoting text messaging campaigns.

Q: How do you recommend nonprofits go about text message opt-ins?

Joel: We recommend that nonprofits collect opt-ins via or online sign-up pages/forms. Most importantly, nonprofits should clearly communicate what their subscribers should expect to receive.

Q: What is the optimum text message frequency and length?

Joel: The optimum text message frequency is 2-4 messages per month, any more and you will run the risk of your subscribers feeling like they are being spammed and will opt out. The length should be within 160 characters to keep the message concise and effective.

Q: What are some different applications for text messaging?

Joel: Sure.

1. Maximize Your Donations: Mobilize your fundraising by collecting donations via text message. Your nonprofit can send a mass text message to members requesting for donations.

2. Keep Members Informed & Engaged: Send weekly news and updates to keep your members up to date. With two-way text messaging, nonprofits can even send their surveys to members for feedback.

3. Send Targeted Messages to Streamline Communications: By using text messaging keywords, you can segment and target your communication based on people’s interest. For example, you will want to send different content via text to someone who enrolled using the keyword AFTERSCHOOL vs. someone that enrolled via the keyword GYM.

4. Text Members During Time-Sensitive Situations: Some nonprofit organizations provide an instant outlet for members who cope with time-sensitive issues such as anxiety, physical abuse, and stress.

We recently wrote an article on this exact topic if you want to read more.

Interview Biographies

Jan Hack is the Communications Director at the Ann Arbor YMCA. She has worked there for six years.

Joel Lee is a marketing specialist at Trumpia, a complete SMS and mass text messaging solution including user-friendly user interface and API for mobile engagement, smart targeting, advanced automation, enterprise, and cross-channel features for both mass texting and landline texting use cases.