The Sign-up Sheet Is Dead

Imagine you are the Executive Director of an amazing nonprofit. You are standing on stage at your annual gala, staring out into a warm and excited crowd of your supporters. You smile as you begin your speech.

I was at a great gala last week. There were over 800 people in the room, there was great food, great speakers, a wonderful auction, and craft beer.

Could you imagine the potential of filling a room with 800 of your strongest supporters? These are people who are coming out to support your organization and all the wonderful things you are doing, many of whom come year after year. These people are your core supporters. Your champions. Your peeps.

This group of 800 people could sustain your organization (and many others!) for years. They will volunteer, take action, and donate. Imagine if each of them gave your organization $100 a year; $200 a year; $500 a year.

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Your challenge is to activate them. What if, within 5 minutes, you had the mobile cell numbers, names, and email addresses of everyone in the audience? They are already excited about your work, and now you can connect with them directly.

You Sold Out Your Event, But Do You Have Mobile Numbers?

If you are operating like tons of other nonprofits, chances are that you have likely used a tool like Eventbrite to sell tickets online. People registered, bought their tickets, and were added to your lists of RSVPs. They may have supplied a phone number; they might have added additional people; they might have added donations on top of their ticket price.

By the time you are launching into your speech, chances are a ton of people will have exchanged tickets, or not shown up at all. This means that, in the best case scenario, you might have 50% of the mobile phone numbers of the people in the room. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to contact everyone at your event directly and immediately?

Can I Bring a Friend? 

When I was the Executive Director of Pivot Legal Society, we used lots of sign-up sheets at events— at our annual general meeting, at parties, and at fundraisers. And you don’t need me to tell you, paper is the worst.

When we started using Eventbrite and then NationBuilder, things got a bit better. We had a list of people who had bought tickets online printed at the door, and volunteers crossed off people as they came in so that we knew who attended. Even though NationBuilder makes it very easy to determine between RSVPs and attendees, we still were missing all the plus-ones and the people who just showed up. Sometimes, if we had a very diligent volunteer, they would write down the name of the plus-ones, but then we were back to paper.

When I walked into the gala last week, I walked up to the registration table and told them my name. They had me down for two tickets. I had brought a friend who had never supported this organization before. I wanted to show him what they were all about. At the registration table, however, he went nameless. All they had on the sign-up sheet was “Peter Wrinch for two,” and in we went.

The Power of Mobile Texting

Let’s be honest, mobile numbers are gold, and the trends are telling. In 2013, the number of households using cell phones in Canada (where I am from) was 83%, up from 78% in 2010; the number of households that are using traditional landlines is down from 66% in 2010 to 56% in 2013. If you want to connect with your supporters, you need to have their cell numbers.

Let’s go back to the moment where you are about to start your speech at your event. What if, right when you finished your speech and after the crowd gave you a standing ovation, you asked everyone in the room to pull out their cell phones and hold them up in the air. You then asked them to text CONNECT to your dedicated local phone number. Once they sent their text, they would be asked to text their name and email address.

Within five minutes, you have the mobile numbers, names, and email addresses of all of your attendees (or at least a huge percentage). They are excited about your work and now you can connect with them directly.

I recently tested this while presenting to a group of 200 politicos, labor leaders, environmentalists, and social justice advocates. I asked the audience to text keywords based on what sector they were working in (e.g., text UNION if you are working in labor). Five minutes later, I had 90% of the mobile numbers in the room and a clear picture of the composition of the audience. 

The Sign-up Sheet Is Dead

Your core supporters are your organizational life blood. Being able to connect with them is the difference between thriving and surviving (or worse). Text messaging allows you to capture the most direct way to contact your supporters. Text messaging tools allow you to scale your efforts, giving you the ability to capture thousands (or 10,000s, or 100,000s) of mobile numbers in minutes.

Imagine inspiring your supporters at your next event and then imagine connecting with them directly the next time you need to engage them. The potential is endless. The next time you are inspiring your people, get them to pull out their cell phones and send you a text!

Epilogue—Paths and Goals

You are inspiring. People have sent you a text. Now what? In September this year, NationBuilder released a major upgrade that included two new features: Paths and Goals. These two features bake ladder of engagement right into your tech infrastructure. So now, when you receive an incoming text, you can automatically set someone on a path, with a number of steps, in service of a larger goal. When I was an Executive Director, we had lots of goals for our supporters, but the main one was to become a donor. However, even though we knew we wanted people to donate, we didn’t really think through the steps to get from attending an event (or sending a text message) to becoming a donor. Getting your supporters to send a text is just the beginning—walk them down the path to your organization’s goals.

Peter Wrinch
Peter Wrinch spent most of his 20s studying Russian revolutionary art and culture. Peter was drawn to the social change work of Pivot Legal Society. After a couple months volunteering, Peter was offered a contract position, a full-time position followed, and 5 years later Peter was named the Executive Director. Peter is a respected speaker and thought leader on organizational culture and structure, fundraising, organizing, and technology. He is now a Lead Organizer at NationBuilder. He lives on Bowen Island with his young family.