Make your nonprofit's emails work better
Technology makes it easier than ever to stay connected with the people who matter most to your organization. Even with the upswing in use of new media channels — think social media, SEO, microsites and paid ads — email remains a pillar of any effective nonprofit marketing strategy.
Why it works
Email marketing is often simpler, cheaper and faster than traditional direct mail campaigns. Email moves the conversation about your nonprofit into a one-to-one setting that ensures greater resonance with targeted audiences. Plus, email has the added benefit of "shareability," making it easy for supporters to spread the word about your nonprofit to their colleagues, friends and other contacts.
Better yet, email can be more effective than social media at reaching people. According to email marketing provider Campaign Monitor, your message is five times more likely to be seen in an email than in a Facebook post.
Whether you're striving for social engagement, brand positioning, or awareness and advocacy, email marketing may be the ticket. If you approach email marketing without a strategy, however, your messages may remain unopened or simply ignored.
How to reach the right people in the right way
Thoughtful segmentation can help you deliver the right message to the right person — while preventing supporters from feeling spammed. In fact, email is one of the most effective ways to communicate with different audiences in a surprisingly personal way. The key is creating personalized content that resonates with the recipient.
For example, you might send educational materials to one-time donors and impact reports and success stories to recurring donors. Consider regular email newsletters — which can be sent inexpensively or even for free through email marketing services such as MailChimp — to stay in touch with interested subscribers. To grow your mailing list, add newsletter opt-ins to the pages of your website, blogs and other communications.
How to write engaging content
Whether you're communicating with volunteers, donors or social media power users, craft your messages using these best practices:
- Have a plan. Perhaps you want to highlight special donors or volunteers to rally support for your organization or promote a new blog entry to drive traffic to your website. Don't write simply for the sake of writing.
- Be smart about subject lines. Think about what might resonate with the recipient. It's probably not the newsletter month or edition number, but instead a highlight of the newsletter's theme or a potential benefit to the reader. Remember that most people look at email subject lines and nothing else before deciding whether or not to open a specific message.
- Use headlines strategically. Ask a question, make a bold statement or use a short, punchy quote.
- Cater to skimmers. Use subheads to break up the content. Stick to short chunks of text. Make use of lists and bullet points.
- Think double duty for images. Each image helps tell your story. Better yet, linking images to an appropriate page in your website may boost traffic to your site.
- Conclude with a call to action. Think back to your original plan. What do you want readers to do after reading your message? If you want them to click on a new blog entry or make an online donation, make it easy to do so with an obvious button or link.
- Remember that less is more. As digital marketer Matt Collins writes in CharityComms, "the more stories you include in your emails, the fewer clicks and results you'll get. So if there's just one call to action — yes, just one — you will get way more results."
As a final check, don't be afraid to ask yourself whether you or a friend would take time to read the message. If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board.
How to measure email effectiveness
To measure the performance of your email campaigns, use analytics from your website or free services such as MailChimp's newsletters and email options. Key metrics include:
- Open rate. How many recipients opened your message?
- Click-through rate. Were readers engaged enough by your content to click the links within your message?
- Link tracking. Of these clicks, which links were most popular?
If your metrics fall short of expectations, experiment to hone in on user demographics and behaviors. For example, you might send messages to different segments of your audience at different times of day or try fresh approaches for subject lines. Try new intervals between newsletters or new delivery days. Similarly, study the links that seem to be most popular. Use this information to better understand your audience and craft future messages.
Feel free to go right to the source as well. Ask your supporters what type of information they'd like from your organization and how often they'd like to receive it. Make it easy with a feedback link in your email messages or on your home page. As you learn more about your various audiences, tailor your approach to meet their needs.
MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.
Media Cause: 5 essential & easy nonprofit email marketing best practices by Jacob Swarsen (2014)
WiredImpact: The benefits of sending nonprofit email newsletters
Constant Contact: The 5 W’s of effective nonprofit email marketing by Terri Harel (2015)
The Nerdy Nonprofit: Would you read your newsletter? Best practices for nonprofit email marketing
CharityComms: Email is your secret weapon by Matt Collins (2016)
Campaign Monitor: Email marketing vs social media: Are you focusing on the wrong channel? by Aaron Beashel (2014)