Text-to-donate: SMS Short Codes vs. Long Codes

August 6, 2019
7 minutes
Two illustrated boxing gloves, one red, one blue, crashing against each other.

As text-to-give and text-to-donate continue to make waves with nonprofits as a super effective way to raise the funds, fundraisers are looking for clarity on the different types of text messaging. Specifically, what the heck's the difference between short codes and long codes?

If you're new to the text message fundraising game, you're probably wondering what short codes and long codes even are! Don't worry; it's not gonna be as hard as you think to figure out which you should adopt for your fundraising strategy.

...Because we're gonna put these two contenders in the ring and have them duke it out. Will there be a clear winner? We'll let you be the judge.

Let's get ready to ruuuuuuuumble, fundraisers! (except, we don't condone violence. This is just a writing technique.)

Round 1: The digits

Short code
A short code is a 5-6 digit number that's used to send text messages to your constituents. Recipients opt in to your messages by texting back with the keyword you provide.

Short codes messages typically look something like this:

"Hey, Chris! We Are the World wants to send 10,000 care packages to Yugoslavia. Please donate $10 by texting 'Donate' to 567-89"

When you text the keyword back, your phone carrier will charge your account a pre-determined amount set by the nonprofit.

Long code
A long code is a standard 10-digit phone number also known as 10-Digit Long Code (10DLC) that's used to send messages to your supporters. 

Messages using long codes appear just like regular text messages and don't require an opt-in keyword. 

A long code message in the wild may look like this: 

Jolene! Thank you for being such an amazing supporter. DollyWorld is in desperate need of repairs. Please donate and help bring back the magic: tiny.url/dfsdr

The link would take you to a mobile-friendly donation page where users can donate on their phone with their credit card or even Apple Pay if the nonprofit is using a modern Text Engagement solution (like Funraise's). 

Round 2: The deets

Short codes
There are two types of short codes—shared and dedicated. Shared codes are exactly what they sound like. You share the same code with multiple businesses. Each business uses the same numerical code but claims its own keywords which can only be used by the claimant. Since you can't use anyone else's keywords, your options may be limited, especially if you're in a popular industry.

Unfortunately, shared short codes have a spam problem. According to Dial My Calls and Bandwidth, telecom providers like AT&T are working towards eliminating shared short codes. Once a spammer gets their hands on a short code, the telecom provider shuts the code down completely, leaving the rest of the (compliant) businesses in danger of losing their codes.  

On the other hand, "dedicated" short codes allows your business to have their own code that isn't shared with anyone else. You also get to select any keyword you want—the sky's the limit!

Long codes
Long codes look just like standardized phones numbers. These are more expected and friendly numbers that can add a tone of personalization by letting you send from a number with a local area code.

A red callout shape with "Pow!" written the middle, all on a blue background.

Round 3: Communication

Short codes
Short codes are often used to send large-scale marketing messages at one time to your database (think thousands at one time). You've probably received a ton of these without even realizing it in the form of promotions, contests, sweepstakes, and offers. With short codes, you're able to send images via MMS ( Multimedia Messaging Service), which makes it ideal for B2C companies to send coupons, promotions, and more.

According to Text US, some consider short codes to be mass, impersonal communication. In a world where hyper-personalization is becoming the norm, mass marketing may be losing its luster. 

Long codes
Long codes are used to send messages to a single supporter or a smaller group of supporters—a more personal form of communication. Since long codes have a per-day-limit on send counts, they're considered more personalized and great for one-on-one customer communication.

Long codes also allow for a two-way conversation if the company is equipped with that capability, which means that nonprofits can nurture relationships through text. Long codes are also a great option for local businesses who can give supporters a sense of familiarity by communicating via a phone number with the same area code as their customer base.

Opting out
In terms of opting out of both short code and long code text messages, it's widely known that donors can reply back with the word STOP; however, it's still best practice to let people know how to opt-out if they choose to do so.

Round 4: Cost-effectiveness & set-up

Short codes
Short codes can get pretty dang expensive. Some companies we researched charged $500-$1000 each month just to lease a number. Then add messaging and keyword fees on top of that. While you pay for the messages you send, incoming messages don't cost a thing.

As you may expect, shared short codes are more affordable than dedicated short codes. Dedicated short codes can get pretty expensive because they're leased on a month-to-month basis and require a set-up fee.

With either one, though, the number is leased, so if you stop paying, say buh bye to your short code forever. 

Long codes
Long codes tend to be much more cost-effective than short codes, running $20-$200 a month. Long codes are purchased and are owned by your organization in perpetuity, so you keep your number foreva-eva (or at least until you stop paying the bill or decide you want to close your account).

Round 5: The world is (or isn't) your oyster

Short codes
When you purchase a short code, you're limited to the country in which you purchased the code. So if you buy a short code in the U.S. and want to expand your supporter base to Canada, you'll need to lease an additional code. 

Long codes
Long codes can be purchased and used across multiple wireless carriers and used internationally, making it easier for nonprofits who have a global reach.

That's all folks! We hope we've shed some light on the complicated and continuously evolving world of short and long codes. With Funraise, your nonprofit is in good hands when it comes to text-to-give and offers a robust Text Engagement feature (we use long codes, if you were wondering). Watch our webinar on text-to-give to learn more about you how you can incorporate Text Engagement into your fundraising strategy!

Mobile phone with donation form and donation charts floating around the phone.Mobile phone with donation form and donation charts floating around the phone.Woman looking at fundraising chart with button to book a call.Yellow shapes in background with donation form in front with stylized text, build an intelligence giving experience.Sparkling star.
Sparkling star.
Start For Free
Sparkling star.Sparkling stars.
Blue shapes.Blue shapes.Blue shapes.