Low-Cost SMS & Text Messaging Tools for Nonprofits

First, what is SMS?

SMS stands for Short Messaging System, however it is more commonly referred to as text messaging. These messages are generally 160 characters long, so just a little longer than a tweet. Roughly 90% of cell phones in the U.S. have unlimited texting and 97% of U.S. adults text (Pew Research, 2015 SMS stats, and 2018 stats).

Now, why should your nonprofit use SMS? TL;DR

We love SMS because it is a channel that people actually open (99% open rate) and respond on more than ANY other messaging platform. This is in large part because it costs money to send bulk SMS/text messages ($.002-$.01 per text depending on your plan) and because the FCC is a lot more strict about SMS spam vs email. For nonprofits, there are many great ideas and uses for SMS that go far beyond just raising money through text-to-donate programs. Here are 5 ideas to get your organization started with SMS.

Text Messaging Tools

Before you get started on those ideas for using SMS, you’ll need to choose your tool(s). We’ll break down tools that you can use for low-cost bulk SMS, fundraisinglarger budgets, and if you have developers on-hand. Note that the following lists were chosen based on up-front pricing and reputation. While there are tons of tools, we list resources by price and drop-off after the top 5 to help our audience focus on relevant options. Please don’t contact us about getting on this list if the tool isn’t up-front about pricing.

Low-cost Bulk SMS tools

These online SMS providers allow you to send messages for a fee and receive bulk text messages for free as long as they have opted in. These are generally shared short or long codes that use keywords to organize conversations of multiple organizations that use the platform.
This is our updated list organized by price, features may vary:

  • Twilio.org: Pricing volume discounts, $.0075 per message sent, $500 in-kind grants for nonprofits available (https://www.twilio.org/benefits/). Twilio studio allows for custom message flows but requires some knowledge of platform to customize.
  • ExpertTexting: Pricing based on $.0083 per message – so $8.30 for 1,000 messages, unlimited keywords (pending availability). No cost to receive texts.
  • MoboMobix: Pricing starts at $50/month for 2,000 messages, 1 keyword. No cost to receive texts
  • Textmarks: Low-cost texting, simple web interface with pricing starting at $199/month for 3,500 messages, includes 10 keywords. Credits are used to send and receive messages.
  • Eztext:  Free messaging tier up to 250 messages a month, then $49/month for 1,000 messages, 1 keyword included. No cost to receive texts.
  • SimpleTexting: Low-cost texting platform starting at $45/month for 1,000 messages, unlimited keywords. No cost to receive texts.
  • Burst SMS: Pricing volume discounts available, $.016 per message sent, 3 keywords for a shared short code included and free to receive messages.


Text-to-give tools

These tools are narrow focused tools that let nonprofits collect donations through texting either via pledge, mobile webform or through direct from mobile bill. Note that giving through cell phone carrier is organized through the Mobile Giving Foundation.
Organized by pricing:

  • @Pay: Pricing starts at $0/yr and 2.9% + $.30 per transaction. They focus on a seamless and efficient giving experience that lets donors give with two clicks, one to send a text with the donation amount and the other to confirm the payment.
  • Txt2Give: Pricing starts at $25/month + 1% donations or $60/month + 0% fee.
  • Qgive: Pricing starts at $0/yr + 3.95% + $.30 per transaction.
  • mGive: Pricing starts at $499/year + 2.9% donation + $.30 per transaction.
  • SecureGive: Pricing starts at $69/month + “competitive processing fees”.


Higher-end Providers and Cost

These providers allow for more dynamic segmenting, messaging, and tools for advocacy. Note that carriers do not charge platforms to receive messages so any cost associated with receiving messages is being added by the vendor.

  • Textit.in: Visual interface for structuring texts, pricing starts at $20 for 1,000 credits. Note that credits count for sent AND received texts, most platforms are free to receive messages.
  • Trumpia: Pricing starts at $250/month for 10,000 credits (sent and received count as credits).
  • CitizenInsights: Offers guided surveying for organizations. Has fixed $99/month for 2,500 sent messages, with customizable message flows.
  • Smart as a Fox: Pricing starts $450/month for 5,000 sent messages and includes unlimited keywords for a shared shortcode (free to receive). They also have great activism click-to-call, VoIP #s and segmentation for message targetting.
  • Callhub: More built for voice messaging, $.016 per message sent, $.012 for messages received. Charge of  $3,000 for 3 months of access to a shortcode.
  • Call for pricing providers: Upland, MobileCause, Clickatell, mblox



This section is more for developers – these tools require configuration but allow you to go bananas with creating your own platform.

  • Twilio: An open API that allows you to build SMS into your app or product. This is the tool we used to build our SMS data tool for Google Analytics.
  • RapidPro: Open source SMS/messaging tool that helps organizations create messaging applications and visual flows for messaging.
  • RapidSMS:    Open source SMS platform focusing on data collection.
  • Spoke: Open source P2P texting platform great for managing field work that uses Heroku, AWS, and Twilio. Operating Spoke can range in cost from $2,800/year for 10,000 conversations/month, to $24,000/year for 100,000 conversations/month. Awesome work by MoveOn.org to make this tool open for the good guys.
  • FrontlineSMS can cost as little as $200 per month. They specialize in custom conversation logic, custom integrations, international SMS or Whatsapp connectivity.

Text Messaging Terms

Your go-to glossary for all the terms you’ll need to know when using these text messaging tools.

  • Short-Code: A five digit phone number that can be used to send or receive text messages. Commonly used for marketing because it is easy to remember. Organizations can share these through providers or register (and pay for) for unique codes through the Common Short Code Administration.
  • Long-Code: A 7 digit number that may be used to send and receive text messages from. If you have a phone, you have one of these. And, if you’re looking for a good time call 867-5309.
  • Shared long/short-code: A shared code means that the provider uses one registered number and allows multiple organizations to use it. They manage the conversations through keywords that people use to opt-in and initiate conversations. IE TextMarks uses the shared code 41411, and then let’s people park keywords that may be texted into it.
  • Keyword(s): The words used in the message of a text that are sent to a long/short-code used to channel and organize the conversation. These are super flexible ways to channel people to opt-in to messaging, track unique campaigns, organize multiple conversations on a shared short-code. IE Text “ThumbWars” to 38383 to opt-in to text messages from DoSomething.org about safe driving.
  • MMS: Stands for Multimedia Messaging System, this similar to texting but is for messaging that includes pictures/videos/audio and extends the SMS core messaging. This commonly costs extra and depends on the recipient’s phone plan and software.
  • Unlimited Texting: A common plan that allows people to send/receive unlimited texts. Note that 10% of people don’t have this and will be charged per text, which is why Mobile opt-in rules must be followed.
  • Mobile opt-in: A message exchange that allows users to register to receive messages over SMS. Requires a message the covers the following:
    • {who and what the organization is} Alerts! Msg&data rates may apply.  {Message frequency} Reply HELP for help, STOP to cancel.
  • Web opt-in: A form that allows people to register to receive text messages and “opt-in” to messaging – required by the FCC.  
  • Carrier: Phone companies like Sprint, AT&T, Virgin, Verizon, etc.
  • ASP: Approved service providers. The Mobile Giving Foundation has a list of ASPs and manage giving relationships with carriers.

Now that you have the tools and the terms, it is time to get started! Have you seen some awesome SMS campaigns from nonprofits before? Share them with us at @WholeWhale.
If you want to incorporate mobile phones more into your nonprofits digital strategy, check out 15 of our favorite nonprofit apps to increase impact.

Tailor your messaging to important users with Lighthouse by Whole Whale. Learn more at getlighthouse.io.