Nobody likes unsolicited marketing. Whether it’s junk mail, spam email, telemarketers, or solicitors at the door, that kind of in-your-face, unasked for marketing is just not welcome. It’s true for texting as well.
But unsolicited texts aren’t just annoying, they’re breaking the law.
So it’s vital that your nonprofit organization is in compliance. Let’s dive into the legal aspects of text messaging: the rules you have to follow, why you should follow them, and how Rally Corp makes it easy for you. It’s all about compliance.
What Are the Texting Rules?
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is the primary law regulating text messages in the U.S. (though there are other laws and rules). The purpose is in the name—it’s all about protecting consumers.
There are a number of TCPA rules and requirements to follow:
- Express written consent: You need clear permission to send messages.
- Do not call: There is a national Do Not Call registry and texting people on that list is a no-no. However, nonprofits are generally exempt.
- Required information: There’s also basic info you need to share—you have to identify your organization, explain the purpose and frequency, and give warnings about potential costs.
- Confirmation message: You’re required to send a specific confirmation message first.
- SHAFT: Certain content is restricted, including texts about sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco.
- Times: You can’t text before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
The biggest thing is you can’t just send unsolicited text messages to anyone. You need that express written consent—people have to opt-in to the messages you’re sending. That means you can’t just take a list of numbers, import them, and send out text messages. You need an opt-in process.
How Rally Makes Compliance Easy
But don’t fear! The Rally platform is set up to ensure compliance. Legal compliance is built into our software and we make sure you’re following the rules. You still need to understand the rules and make sure not inadvertently skirting them, but we’re here to help.
1. Express Written Consent
This is the big one. You need permission to send text messages, and it has to be “express written consent.” Now it doesn’t have to be literally written, but there are specific rules.
There are three ways to get express written consent to send text messages:
- Text a keyword: This happens when someone texts a keyword to your short code. This is the simplest because they’re already texting you. Rally sends an automatic confirmation message that you set up, filling in some basics about the purpose and frequency.
- Online form: You can also get permission to send texts from an online form. This could be a form specifically to receive texts or it could be a form for another purpose with an additional check box to receive texts. However, make sure it’s clear that people will receive text messages and they must manually check the box. Do not pre-check it. These phone numbers can be imported into Rally and we confirm on every import that you’ve received express written consent. We also offer a compliant form you can embed on your site.
- Paper form: Of course you can also get that literal written consent. Paper forms work just like online forms where you need to clearly state that they are consenting to receive text messages. The import process works the same with the same confirmation.
If you’re using online or paper forms, it’s a good idea to use a double opt-in where you text them and again ask for permission to text them. Usually it’s a simple message saying they signed up somewhere else and you want to confirm that they do want to receive text messages from your organization.
Rally doesn’t require a double opt-in, but we do make it easy.
Obey the Opt-Out
Just as it’s important to get permission to text people, you have to stop when they ask you to stop. This is called opting out, and when someone opts out they’re effectively rescinding their express written consent.
So you have to honor that.
Rally makes this easy with simple opt-out options. We even track sentiment, so if someone is angry but they don’t use the actual opt-out commands, the system still recognizes it and flags it so you can review it and decide if the person should be opted out.
2. Do Not Call
You’re not allowed to text people on the Do Not Call list. That’s pretty simple. However, nonprofits are generally exempt. So the Rally platform offers the option to check your phone number list against the Do Not Call list if that’s something your organization would prefer.
3. Required Information
TCPA mandates sharing certain basic information when you text people. With Rally you can send an initial message to confirm numbers that includes all this info. We’ve got a simple template where you can fill in the details to make sure you’re meeting the requirements.
4. Confirmation Message
TCPA also requires a confirmation message when you text people. The easiest approach is to share the required information in the confirmation message and combine these two requirements. Rally makes it easy with templates and widgets.
Sending texts about certain restricted topics, including sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco (SHAFT), are outright banned or require a special ‘age gate.’ This comes from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), a trade association of the wireless communication industry.
SHAFT is one of those rules Rally can’t police, so you need to be aware of it.
If you’re doing a fundraising event that serves alcohol or are talking about nonprofit services, including recovery, sex trafficking, or advocacy, you could run into these rules. However, context matters. Reach out if you have questions and we can help you navigate SHAFT.
Compliance rules don’t allow marketing texts to be sent before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., based on the receiver’s time zone. This one can get complicated, so we recommend sticking to sending texts between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Central Time (that will keep you compliant in all continental U.S. timezones).
If you have time sensitive texts, this is a limitation you should definitely be aware of. For example, if you had a time sensitive text that needed to go out in the morning, 8 a.m. on the East Coast is 5 a.m. on the West Coast, so those West Coast messages should be delayed until after 8 a.m. local time.
We do support high-capacity sending to ensure your messages get delivered in a reasonable time frame, which makes compliance easier. Not all platforms offer that, which can lead to messages taking hours to send.
Exception: These rules are generally for marketing blasts, so emergency alerts—like a weather closure—would be an exception.
TCPA and other rules and regulations have even more guidelines for text messaging compliance. Some of it can get pretty technical and confusing.
There’s person-to-person (P2P) texting where one human texts another, and there’s application-to-person (A2P) texting where messages are sent through a software application to another human. Most organizational texting is A2P and you’ll follow those guidelines.
The Rally platform supports both A2P and P2P, with compliance baked into the system so you don’t have to worry.
There are also 10-digit long code (10DLC) phone numbers that nonprofits can register (we can help!), as well as the five- or six-digit short codes (such as 24365 that we use) that can be shared or unique (though a unique short code can be expensive).
The Rally platform supports 10DLC, toll-free, and custom short codes, but we encourage using verified toll-free texting and our shared 24365 for inbound opt-ins because it’s so simple and allows for higher throughput (message sending volume).
Why You Should Follow The Rules
The TCPA is intended to protect consumers (it’s got “consumer protection” right there in the name!). That should be your goal as well, because if consumers aren’t protected they’re going to be pretty angry. And they’ll be angry at you. So it’s in your best interest to be compliant. It’s in everyone’s best interest.
This is all part of being a good digital citizen. You follow the rules and keep others’ best interests at heart. You’re not just following the rules for the sake of rules, you’re respecting consumers. You’re honoring their time. You’re not a heartless corporation spamming people for profit. As a nonprofit organization, you know the ends do not justify the means, so you’re going to be as ethical as possible in the means you pursue.
Nonprofits are all about doing the right thing, so here’s a chance to live it out.
And if you want to get selfish about it, following the rules is good for your effectiveness. The more people break the rules, the more people get turned off to texting, and the less effective it’s going to be. But following the rules makes texting more effective, and that’s good for everybody.
Finally, these are rules you agree to follow as part of using the Rally platform. It’s all part of our acceptable use policy that all clients adhere to when they sign up.
Don’t Fight the Law
If being a good citizen and selfishly boosting your own effectiveness aren’t good enough reasons, then there’s the law. There are serious consequences to violating the TCPA.
Fines range from $500 to $1,500. For each instance. So if you text 1,000 people without permission, you’re looking at a minimum fine of $500,000. Ouch.
And this isn’t one of those things that never happens. Companies are messing up all the time, and they pay for it:
- Settlements: Jiffy Lube settled for $47 million, Uber for $20 million, Papa John’s for $16.5 million, Abercrombie & Fitch for $10 million, Caribou Coffee for $8.5 million.
- There are a ton of pending cases: AutoNation, Giorgio Armani, Harbor Freight Tools, Miracle-Gro, Orange Theory Gym, Petland, Subway, And it’s not just corporations. The National Republican Congressional Committee also has a pending lawsuit.
The TCPA is not just a suggestion. Your nonprofit needs to take these laws seriously or you will suffer the consequences.
Texting can be an incredibly effective method, but only if you follow the rules. The Rally platform is set up to help you follow the rules and we’re more than happy to answer questions to help you better understand compliance.
We’re here to help: If you’re struggling to figure out policies, we’ve got ready-made templates. If you’re unsure about procedures, we can help you become compliant and stay compliant. We roll out tools like sentiment analysis to help you better understand responses and quickly recognize when someone wants to opt-out, even if they don’t use explicit command keywords. Our goal is to help you go above meeting the simple letter of the law and comply with the spirit of the law. It’s all about putting people first (one of our core values).
But at the end of the day, your nonprofit organization is responsible for being compliant and following all the relevant rules. We’re not lawyers and can’t offer legal advice, so you should always consult your legal counsel. We’re here to help you through it (honestly, it’s in our best interest to help you stay compliant), but it’s your nonprofit organization and your reputation.
Want to see more of how the Rally platform works and automates many of these compliance rules? Book a demo now to see Rally in action.