Can a nonprofit text people without express, prior written consent?
It’s not a question of spam, per se. That’s obviously not good.
But there may be situations where your nonprofit has a relationship with people and you want to text them, but you’re not sure if you’re legally allowed to.
So let’s dig into it and go through the in’s and out’s of some of texting’s requirements.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (aka the TCPA), before the age of texting, was designed to help people not get inundated with unwanted phone calls. The TCPA generally required express consent for receiving certain types of phone calls—that way, businesses and organizations couldn’t send out spam calls.
Then texting came onto the scene.
Historically, the regulations within the TCPA were applied to texting, although the language within the TCPA were directed toward calls rather than texts (since text messages did not really exist when the law was enacted).
Thus, previously, businesses and organizations that used texting had to abide by the TCPA’s restrictions.
However, there have been a few changes through the years, including a Supreme Court ruling in 2021 declaring that the “auto-dialer” requirements in the TCPA may not apply to all text alert systems.
The bottom line is that the “express consent” requirement for texting has been lessened, and the TCPA does not fully apply in the broad sense that it did in the past.
What does that mean for your nonprofit?
It means that as long as you aren’t texting a “randomly dialed” list, as long as you are texting at reasonable hours of the day, and as long as you are respecting opt-outs, you shouldn’t have to worry about the TCPA.
HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you should go texting all of your clients and donors willy-nilly.
You’ll need to consider the regulations of the CTIA and mobile carriers. Let’s go over what that means...
While the TCPA is a law of the land, the CTIA is a regulatory organization that helps monitor texting regulations among mobile carriers and message senders—to help ensure that spam isn’t sent to consumers.
In addition, the mobile carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T have their own regulations for how messages should be processed.
The point of all of this regulation is good; it’s to protect consumers from receiving unwanted texts, and to help preserve the integrity of texting as such a personal communication avenue. However, these regulations can cause confusion for organizations wanting to send texts.
So let’s break some of it down for you.
The regulations of the CTIA and mobile carriers are not legally binding. But if they are not followed, it may result in your messages being filtered out and blocked as “spam”—even if it’s actually legitimate traffic.
Therefore, it’s recommended (and often required by mobile platforms) that you abide by these regulations and best practices.
There are a few broad principles that, if followed, will both help ensure you don’t get into any legal trouble, and will help prevent your messages from getting filtered out as spam.
Although not always legally required, if you don’t get permission before sending texts, you will likely have a lot of people opting out.
A high opt-out rate will raise red flags with mobile carriers and may result in messages getting flagged and filtered out as spam. So you’ll want to make sure you get permission before sending your texts.
Mobile Text Alerts offers several ways to help you get your audience to opt in to your texts, such as text-to-join keywords and online sign-up forms. Or if you prefer to get permission on your own, you can import your own list of contacts into the platform, or sync up the texting platform to other software you use via integrations or API.
Registering your brand and your traffic ahead of time with the mobile carriers is almost a must in the current climate, in order to get successful delivery for your messages. Registering allows the carriers to pre-vet your traffic, which decreases the chances that they will filter out the messages as spam.
The process of registering your brand is painless. It just involves filling out a brief form.
The registration form will ask some basic details about your organization and about your use for text alerts. The mobile carriers want to know your organization’s name, address, some examples of the types of messages you will send, and other similar information.
Mobile Text Alerts displays this form for you within your platform, and automatically submits it to carriers for review on your behalf.
To help make sure there is no confusion among your recipients, be sure to clearly identify yourself in all of your texts.
It’s recommended that you include your organization’s name in every single text you send. This could be as simple as starting the text with the organization name (or an abbreviation of it):
YMCA: Zumba class is canceled today due to inclement weather. Sorry for any inconvenience! See you next time!
All of your recipients should know how to opt out of your texts.
With Mobile Text Alerts, your recipients can opt out by replying with the word STOP to any of your messages. So you just need to make sure you give people those instructions.
For the best delivery results, we would recommend including the instructions, “Text STOP to opt out” (or some variation of that) at the end of every text that you send.
IHCC: Just a reminder about the canned food drive tomorrow, starting at 9am! See you there! Text STOP to opt out
While link shorteners such as Bitly are helpful resources for many purposes, mobile carriers don’t like it when text messages are sent containing links shortened through public URL shorteners.
This would include sites like Bitly, TinyURL, and Cuttly. But shortened URLs work so much better than full URLs in a text message format, and sometimes including a long URL just isn’t feasible.
Plus, shortened links offering better link tracking capabilities. So what’s the answer?
The answer is that mobile carriers do allow you to use branded URL shorteners. So if you’re able to shorten a link with a custom domain, that won’t raise red flags like a "bit.ly" link would.
Mobile Text Alerts allows you access to a free URL shortener branded to our services, and you can even add your own domain to the URL. So you can still shorten and track your link while abiding by the “branded URL” regulation.
Mobile carriers are strict about what type of content can be included in your messages.
In general, your messages should avoid content that explicitly mentions any of the following:
The basic rule of thumb is that if your message could potentially be questionable, it probably is.
However, some of the above examples can have legitimate use cases and may be workable under certain restrictions. Get in touch with sales and tell them about your use case, and they can give you more info about the best way to go about your messaging efforts.
Breaking the carrier regulations down into these few simple guidelines helps make the requirements easier and more manageable.
If you follow these best practices, you shouldn’t have any trouble with your texting efforts getting blocked as spam—or getting flagged as against existing laws.
The bottom line is: no, your nonprofit should not text people without some level of consent.
While legally you may be allowed to do this, texting people without receiving prior permission may result in your messages getting flagged as spam and not being delivered.
Therefore, we would recommend that you get consent from subscribers before sending them any texts.
To obtain consent in order to send people texts, you need to give them an opt-in method.
As mentioned previously, you could come up with your own opt-in form and load people in manually. Or you can use one of the opt-in tools provided by Mobile Text Alerts:
Using one or more of these methods, you can obtain consent from your recipients so that you have more confidence that your messages will be successfully delivered.
Related to the question of how to obtain consent (or how people can opt in), is how people can opt out.
People can opt out of your texts simply by replying with the word STOP to any of your messages.
With Mobile Text Alerts, texting STOP will automatically remove people from your subscriber list and will put them on your “blacklist.” Once on the blacklist, you can’t add them back into your database. (If the subscriber wants to be added back in, they will have to opt themselves back in.)
You can also view everyone who has opted out from an “opt-out report,” so you can see everyone who has unsubscribed.
Having this opt-out mechanism gives the user a sense of confidence and control over the messaging that they can receive. It also protects you as the sender from accidentally sending messages to people who no longer want to receive messages.
So, can a nonprofit text without consent? As we’ve seen, the answer is yes and no.
You may be legally allowed to text people without consent, but it is not best practice.
To help make sure you get the best delivery possible, it’s better to follow all of the best practices listed above.
Above all, don’t send actual spam. And don’t send people messages that they don’t actually want to receive.
If you follow all of these guidelines for your own nonprofit, you’ll be a texting pro, and you’ll be able to fully harness the power of texting to really reach the people you’re trying to reach.
Get a free 14-day trial to test sending texts for your own non-profit now.
*Note that the tips provided in this article should not be taken as legal advice
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