Internal memo: The case for Mobile Commons

While on staff at CLCV, I was asked to make the case internally for using Mobile Commons (now part of Upland Software) for text messaging outreach. We were already using their “click to call” functionality to generate phone calls to lawmakers via email; their text messaging service cost significantly more, however.

After I wrote this, CLCV became an affiliate on LCV’s Mobile Commons account, which reduced the cost significantly from the full price. In my last days at CLCV, I successfully linked Luminate Online with Mobile Commons.

The text below has been edited to remove specifics from CLCV’s strategic planning goals.


The case for Mobile Commons

Draft 5/29/2015

What does Mobile Commons do?

Mobile Commons does two main things:

  1. It allows CLCV to have sophisticated two-way interactions with people on their mobile phones using text messages (something they’re probably doing anyway), whether or not they’re already CLCV constituents.
  2. It allows people to contact their legislators by phone without having to look up their legislator or dial a number. Instead, after they give us their address and phone number, they instantly receive a call from us that gives them brief recorded instructions and then connects them to the target we select (such as their state or federal representatives, the governor, or any other custom target we set up). CLCV already uses this “click-to-call” functionality provided by Mobile Commons.

Adding text messaging functionality will improve CLCV’s level of engagement with existing supporters and our ability to recruit new supporters. Text messaging is highly targetable and will integrate seamlessly with our existing channels to multiply the effectiveness of all of our communications and fundraising efforts. Using text messaging, we can ask supporters to:

  • Sign petitions
  • Contact legislators via phone
  • Tell a friend about a CLCV action
  • Attend local events
  • Give money
  • And so on.

Constituents can do these actions quickly and easily on their mobile phone, by responding via text or by clicking links in text messages that lead to mobile-optimized web pages.

They can also take a wide variety of actions by using Mobile Commons’ mData and mCast platforms. mData allows them to interact with online data we provide, such as legislators’ scores and contact information; mCast allows them to send text messages that can then be projected on a screen, as at a fundraising or rally-type event.

People who subscribe to text messages are more likely to give money. According to the Human Rights Campaign, text message subscribers were 250% more likely to donate than non-subscribers (read the case study at The Humane Society of the United States found that members who received a text message reminder to donate were 77% more likely to donate than those who did not.

Text message calls to action are five times as effective as email calls to action.

Nonprofit mobile lists grow twice as fast as email lists.

How will text messaging help CLCV strategically?

Text messaging will help achieve a wide variety of our strategic goals for policy outcomes and power building. CLCV’s goals are fundamentally based on engaging and activating grassroots members. Text messaging will improve the effectiveness of our existing channels by amplifying our message and reminding people to take an action they may or may not have seen on another channel (email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

Text messaging will contribute to achieving policy outcome goals from our strategic plan, including:

  • Promoting CLCV’s endorsements and helping elect environmental champions.
  • Engaging and activating our grassroots membership to support efforts to further CLCV’s legislative priorities.
  • Holding legislators accountable to climate leadership goals & CLCV’s legislative priorities through traditional media (e.g. letters to the editor) and social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook).
  • Working in-district with members and partners to support grassroots in-district meetings.

It will also directly contribute to achieving these power-building goals from our strategic plan:

  • Building the size and diversity of our list of supporters.
  • Engaging CLCV phone and online members in direct contacts with legislators on priority issues.
  • Increasing capacity for organic list growth.
  • Growing the phone membership as an effective tool for accountability.
  • Generating revenue from an increasingly large base of grassroots donors.

Because subscribers will specifically be providing mobile phone numbers, we will be able to use those numbers as a dual-purpose channel, for calling and text messaging.

What we can ask people to do is only limited by our imagination; they can click on links in text messages that allow them to click to call a legislator, or those links can take them to web pages on which they can do any action they can currently do on our website.

Because text messages have much higher open rates and action rates than email, as our text message subscriber list grows, our return on investment for all of our methods of outreach will increase.

In addition, text messaging should increase CLCV’s demographic, racial, & geographic diversity. Mobile phones have more penetration into communities that are underrepresented in CLCV’s supporter base, especially by age and race.

Fully 40% of cell phone owners use a social networking site on their phone, and 28% do so on a typical day.  Young people, people of color, the highly educated, and those with a higher annual household income are more likely to use social networking sites on their phones than other groups.

What do we need to do to get started?


To ensure that we derive maximum political and fundraising benefit from Mobile Commons, we should gather information from other organizations with strong online programs about their best practices for effective mobile phone list building.


Since we already have an account with Mobile Commons, launching full functionality with them should require little more than a few meetings, some email traffic, and some training to get us up to speed.

Recruitment techniques

We can start by uploading our existing phone numbers to Mobile Commons and matching them to their phone provider, allowing us to tell which existing numbers are mobile numbers and targeting them for easy opt-ins. More than 9,400 of our members have already specifically identified their numbers as mobile phone numbers (without having opted into text messaging).

Immediately upon approval, we can start including mobile opt-in language and a mobile phone field on post-action donation thank you pages (which currently have no interactive function).

In all of our communications, we can ask people to send a one-word text to a shortcode (for example, by sending “VOTECA” to 30644).

Project text ask at events and turn downtime into interactive Q&A, keeping people engaged by asking them to text in their opinions and immediately projecting the results.

Other ideas:

  • Surveys and polls
  • Contests
  • Thanking public officials
  • Sweepstakes/giveaways
  • Offer breaking news content via text
  • Offer matching gifts for mobile signups

Who else uses Mobile Commons?


Courage Campaign

The Humane Society of the United States


No Kid Hungry


Planned Parenthood

Sierra Club

World Wildlife Fund

and many more

What will this cost?


Mobile Commons costs $2,000 per month. That cost includes full use of their product with no maximum usage: text messages, click-to-call campaigns, originating VoIP numbers, segmenting, targeting, and unique keywords to a shared shortcode.

Staff time

Currently, we choose which tools to use in our advocacy and fundraising campaigns (e.g. email, blog entries, click-to-call, Twitter, Facebook) based on the staff time available and what we think will be most effective for that particular campaign. For example, we use click-to-call phone calling when we want to generate calls quickly. Text messaging will be another tool that we will have to consider how to thoughtfully deploy in any given campaign and will thus add an incremental amount of planning time.

As with email, we will need to plan our messaging stream to ensure that people are neither texted too much or too little. However, each message and automatic reply will be extremely short compared to an email, an action alert, an autoresponder, etc. Therefore, ostensibly, writing and editing individual text messages should not be particularly time-consuming.

What are the benefits?

Text messaging should lead to an increased number of engaged constituents and ultimately result in a higher percentage of subscribers donating.

What are the risks?

Similar to email, blast text messaging allows us to reach many people instantaneously. Therefore the risk exists that we might send the wrong message or information by mistake, but that is a manageable risk that is inherent in any external communications.

It is also possible that we could invest in the platform and it could never reach the potential levels of return predicted. The fixed cost of signing up for the platform is $24,000 based on a standard one-year agreement.

How long will it take to show results?

We currently have more than 9,400 active online subscribers who have mobile phone numbers, though they have not yet been given the option to opt into receiving text messages from CLCV. (We were advised not to opt members into the program until we have the capacity to actually respond via text message, to prevent a long lead time that would result in people forgetting they signed up for texts.)

Given that our list of 150,000 email addresses routinely shows about an overall 7-10% participation rate, and applying that participation rate to the 9,400 supporters we already have with mobile numbers, we can conservatively expect a list of perhaps 500-1000 subscribers within a few months of signing up.

Since text lists reportedly grow twice as fast as email lists, we can expect it to at least double in size each year, and those subscribers will all be more primed to donate and take action. More importantly, they’ll be primed for key items in our strategic plan, including attending local events and participating in accountability work with legislators.

More Information


How to build mobile list at live events:

Case studies:

Sierra Club gets 1% response rate connecting text subscribers to Sungevity:

Food and Water Watch generates anti-fracking phone calls to White House:

Blue Ocean Institute replaces wallet cards with informational “FishPhone” text program:

No Kid Hungry provides free summer meals locator via text, finds multi-channel promotion works:

Planned Parenthood connecting low-income subscribers with Affordable Care Act signup help: