A 2020 article in the Globe and Mail entitled, “COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep flaws in Canadian philanthropy, fragility of non-profits” highlighted some grim facts; as a result of COVID-19, charitable donations in Canada are down about 30%, 48% of charities have had to cancel or reduce programs or activities that involve in-person contact, the number of people who are actively volunteering has dropped steeply, many smaller charities are in danger of shutting down completely…

… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, if you manage a non-profit or charitable organization you are already well aware of all the challenges brought about by COVID-19.

You may not, however, be aware that you can…

  • Reduce your messaging and advertising costs.
  • Boost your campaigns’ response rates
  • Increase your ROI.

… by using SMS/MMS messaging to reach your donor base.

“SMS isn’t only viable. In many cases, it may be the channel best suited to the goals you’re pursuing.” (The Non Profit Times)

There are a number of reasons why this is so…

Everybody Texts

The days when texting was an activity mostly restricted to young people are far behind us. Today, everybody texts…

  • Age 18–29: 100%
  • Age 30–49: 98%
  • Age 50 and over: 90%+

And why not? Texting is simple, cheap and best of all, a completely unintimidating technology that takes minutes to master and requires no downloads, no special software or modern smart phone to access (text works on phones long considered obsolete).

All Text Messages are Read

Depending on whose data you rely on, between 96–99% of all text messages are read, the majority within 3 minutes.

Personally, I think it’s more likely to be 100%, simply because of the way new smart phones continue to highlight unread messages until you actually open them. Even unopened messages are likely to be read on your phone’s “message preview” screen. Today, it’s almost impossible for a message not to be read.

What I’d like to discuss for a moment is why this is (bear with me, as this explains in a very concise way why SMS or MMS is so valuable).

Most people will tell you that it’s the recipient’s proximity to their phones that is the primary factor here. After all, the majority of people have their phones within arm’s reach most of the day, so it’s only logical to assume that’s why all texts are read so quickly.

And sure, proximity plays a role. But it’s not the primary one.

After all, the majority of Canadians have smartphones and as a result, can—and do—pick up their emails on the very same device that’s sitting 3 feet away. And yet emails can languish for hours or even days before being read, if they’re even read at all.

So why then, when both types of messages arrive on the exact same device, that one is ignored and one is prioritized?

Any guesses?

It has nothing to do with technology.

It all about from whom the message originates. 99.9% of the time, text messages come from someone within your immediate social circle, someone close to you; a friend, colleague, partner, spouse, parent, lover, child, sibling, etc. You reach for your phone to read a text the moment it arrives because it comes from someone you care about.

Emails, on the other hand, come from anybody, which is exactly why no one is in a hurry to read them.

This, in a nutshell, is why sending your messages via SMS/MMS is so valuable; your message arrives on a trusted channel reserved only for those contacts closest to the recipient. And as a result, it is prioritized accordingly.

“Regardless of your size, SMS is a channel that you should carefully consider.” (The Non Profit Times).

SMS / MMS is Affordable

Promotional campaigns are expensive because it takes a lot of repeated messaging to penetrate through the noise and distractions of everyday life and capture the attention of your audience.

It’s “spray and pray” in the worst way.

With SMS / MMS…

  • You reach only those with whom you have an established relationship.
  • There is no “wastage:” no sending messages to those who may or may not be interested in supporting your cause.

… so your expenditure is 100% focused. Not surprisingly, your ROI (return on investment) for your campaigns is much higher too.

Canadian Law (CASL) Allows Message Exemptions for Non-Profits

In Canada, sending commercial electronic messages (CEMs) via SMS or MMS is governed by Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (“CASL”) and is based upon consent.

And yes… these laws do apply to non-profit organizations.

However, Canadian law is quite flexible in that it allows for messaging based on something called an “existing non-business relationship.” This is a form of implied consent.

Let’s back up for a moment while I provide some background information on CASL and consent. To send SMS or MMS in Canada, you need to have the consent of your contacts. There are two types of consent…

1. Express consent:

This is pretty straight forward and self explanatory—your contact actively agrees to receive promotional messages from you, and signs a document (either physically or digitally) or provides verbal consent (which must be documented) to indicate such.

Express consent does not expire, but the contact must be able to unsubscribe from further messaging at anytime.

2. Implied consent:

Many businesses and organizations have not obtained “express consent” from their contacts, and that’s where “implied consent” comes in. It’s a little more complicated, because your contact does not actively give you permission to send them commercial messages.

Instead, you’re relying on your relationship with them to provide the consent.

There are two types of implied consent; an existing business relationship, or in the case of a non profit organization, an existing “non-business” relationship.

In other words, your established relationship with the contact is enough to justify your messaging.

For businesses, this means the contact has entered into a transaction with you. For a non profit, it means the contact has made a donation or volunteered to help your organization.

Implied Consent Challenges

While it does provide Canadian businesses and organizations with a huge advantage, there are a couple of challenges when relying upon implied consent for your messaging.

The first is that it only extends back two years; in other words you can only message those who either volunteered or donated in the last two years.

The second that unless the consent is renewed (i.e., the contact makes another donation or volunteers again, thus resetting the two year time frame), it expires in two years.

Despite this, I’d recommend looking at implied consent as a huge opportunity rather than something to be worried about. We’d be happy to discuss the benefits of using implied consent for your messaging with you directly if you’d like—feel free to contact us and start a conversation.

Additional CASL Exemptions…

Canadian law appears to allow for additional exemptions outside of an “existing non business relationship” if the primary purpose of your messaging is to raise funds for your charity, although we’d highly recommend you review this with legal counsel to confirm (we aren’t lawyers, after all).

For instance…

“… there is an exemption under section 3(g) of the Governor-in-Council Regulations for CEMs sent by or on behalf of a registered charity, as defined under the Income Tax Act, where the primary purpose of the CEM is to raise funds for the charity.”

And, under “Excluded Commercial Electronic Messages” (see https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2013-221/FullText.html)…

“Section 6 of the Act does not apply to a commercial electronic message…

(g) that is sent by or on behalf of a registered charity as defined in subsection 248(1) of the Income Tax Act and the message has as its primary purpose raising funds for the charity;”

See https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/com500/faq500.htm.

What’s Next?

We’d be happy to chat with you about your organization’s needs and how SMS/MMS might work for you. If you like, we can discuss a pilot project where you message a portion of your donors and gauge the results.

Why not get in touch?