Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. The Jewish population in particular has grown by 70 percent since 2001, according to a study commissioned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. While the population is growing, enrollment in local Jewish private schools and summer camps has stagnated, which raised important questions and opportunities for the Samis Foundation (which provides about $4M in annual support of these organizations).

The Samis Foundation was established 1994 by Samuel Israel to support Jewish educational opportunities for students in the greater Seattle area. An entity known almost exclusively by

the local organizations they fund, the foundation has not historically focused on communicating directly with the parents and families that benefit most from their funding. With a renewed focus on increasing the number of families taking advantage of the local Jewish day schools and camps, Samis set out to show the advantages of these educational opportunities.

“Our research showed that many Jewish families are skeptical about how they will fit into traditional Jewish environments like synagogues and day schools. Many of these same families question the quality of education in a Jewish school as compared to area independent schools,” said Amy Amiel, Senior Program Director for the foundation.

See3, a digital agency that works with nonprofits from coast to coast, knew that to counter these misperceptions, it needed to change the focus of the conversation and widen the number of people participating in it. They developed a content marketing strategy with text messaging opt-in as one component. “We felt that texting parents to learn about school options was a convenient and non-threatening way to get over the hump of preconceived notions,” said Megan Freed, a consultant with See3.

Developing a Campaign Strategy

See3 designed a campaign that centered on the publication of a new parent guide, “Preparing for Your Child to Enter Kindergarten.” The guide was then supported by an integrated marketing campaign in print ads, online advertising, and at events. Much of the online advertising promoted a URL that led to an online form where parents could sign up to get an email when the guide was ready. That made sense because it’s easy online to click and jump into an online form. However, when people go about their daily lives, they’re less likely to stop, type out a URL, and go to a web page. Texting is an easy way to get or send information without having to dedicate a lot of time to the task, so the print ads and events for the campaign primarily promoted the texting short code and keyword.

The campaign began two months before the guide was released, so the first text to parents was a simple “thank you for your interest.” In the following weeks, the Samis Foundation sent additional texts that teased the release date and built anticipation.

“There’s a bit of ‘instant gratification’ when signing up for a text campaign. So it was exciting to be at an event promoting the campaign and watch audience members—many of whom are deeply committed to building Seattle’s Jewish education—get excited when they received their ‘Thank You’ text,” said Amiel.

Setting Up the System

The Samis Foundation had never used text messaging in its marketing and viewed this project as an experiment, so it was looking for a platform that was simple and inexpensive. See3 chose EZ Texting because it only charged $25 per month per keyword and $0.05 per outgoing message. It was also easy to set up. All Samis and See3 had to do was create an account and attach a credit card. Freed found that the user interface was straightforward and could easily accomplish their basic needs.

The low cost meant Samis was able to test what messages and keywords worked well together and to develop creative assets that helped the keywords stand out. The tricky part was finding the right keywords. Most texting service providers require organizations to share a short code, which means that the keyword is what connects the texter with the organization. A good keyword is short, memorable, and on topic. Of course, many of the best keywords are already taken. “We went through a lot of keywords before we found a few that were available and on-message,” Freed said.

Overall, the campaign was successful. It launched in late August and all of the messages See3 was able to track were opened. When the guide was released, 20 percent of text subscribers clicked through to downloaded it.

Facing Challenges

While the program was successful, Samis did experience a few challenges. The reporting data available through EZ Texting was limited to the major carriers, which meant that Samis was not able to get engagement data on the approximately 40 percent of its message recipients who happened to be with smaller carriers. However, See3 was able to use Google Analytics to infer the success of its texting campaign by matching spikes in traffic with message timing.

“Year one was very much a pilot program. But as we move into year two of the campaign, we are more acutely focused on evaluating the success of reaching new audiences which may mean we make some changes,” Freed said.

Samis also does not have a robust constituent relationship management (CRM) system, which means that for many of its texters, it doesn’t have any data other than a phone number.

Building on Success

Applications for next year’s day school kindergarten classes were due in January and enrollment numbers are expected later this spring. Although the new school year has not yet begun, Samis and See3 are already looking ahead to the next application season. The Samis Foundation plans to build on what it has learned and continue experimenting with text messaging as a way to reach Jewish parents across the region. In the meantime, it is sending messages to remind parents that the schools have rolling admission and may be able to admit a student after the deadline.

Overall, Freed thinks text messaging is a good way for nonprofits to reach out and provide information to its constituents. “Start small,” she advised. “Find a platform that doesn’t cost a lot of money so that you can pilot a few things. If you see success, you can ramp it up. If it doesn’t meet with the success you had hoped, you abort. It doesn’t have to be scary.”

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