How Community Foundations Can Use Text Messages to Engage Citizens – and Conference Goers


In a recent conference session about digital strategy, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo proved that the best way to engage citizens in their communities is also the best way to engage event attendees in a room. They created a miniature mobile campaign that polled conference goers about their organizational priorities. At the same time, they proved how simple and effective a two way text conversation can be.

At the 2012 Fall Conference for Community Foundations, Buffalo laid out how text messaging can help community foundations reach citizens and bridge the digital divide. Then they put that theory into action. During a Q&A session, they projected a clear text call to action on a screen, asking event attendees to text KCIC to 877877.

The Foundation received an incredible response rate – around 85% of the conference attendees texted in to join the campaign. After opting in, users were asked a series of questions about their foundations and their interests. For example:

What excites you about the digital age? The potential for A) Fundraising B) Public engagement C) Policy change D) News coverage E) Not sure


What are you investing in? A) Citizen journalism B) Mobile and new technology C) Non-profit news D) Something else E) All of the above F) Thinking about it

Almost everyone in the room answered the questions. That provided Buffalo a great snapshot of different foundations’ priorities in the years to come. And it also showed all the conference participants how easy it can be to start using text messaging themselves.

How Text Messaging Helps Community Foundations

Community foundations serve a vital role in raising citizens’ awareness about important local issues. They often work with independent journalists to do investigative research into municipal problems. Then, they engage residents to create change.

For example, Buffalo is planning a mobile campaign to stop trucks from idling on the city’s Peace Bridge, the port of entry from Canada into the United States. Residents surrounding the bridge have experienced much greater instances of asthma and other related health problems, like cancer. Advocates link those health issues with the trucks’ toxic fumes.

By reaching people on their cell phones, foundations can more easily engage those communities’ residents. They can poll citizens about their priorities; they can send out informational texts providing background on the issues; and they can give people simple ways to take action – even those people without convenient access to the Internet. That’s especially important as people lose the daily newspapers that used to be the source of community information.

Buffalo’s mini-mobile campaign ended by telling conference participants to text in their name and number to learn more about mobile. We invite readers to do the same. Send an email to, or text ENGAGE to 69866, to get started with your mobile campaign today.

Other Examples of How Text Messaging Works Well with Live Events

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