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Posts Tagged ‘AFP-MD’

Are You Making the Most of Email?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

There are now many more tools in the toolbox when it comes to contacting constituents, but email is still a valuable one – and definitely one of the most profitable in terms of ROI when soliciting, as well as newsletters, updates, etc.

Some nonprofits have better luck than others raising funds or engaging their followers online, however.  Further scrutiny into their methodologies, combined with available research on the topic, often yields insight which demonstrates that various changes in campaign strategies can bolster – sometimes significantly – online income.

First, remember that email is a more personal and less formal way of communicating than direct mail.  While your language may not be exactly slang, it shouldn’t read like an engraved invitation that comes in the mail, either.  Although your type of communication always depends upon your organization and audience, most people feel comfortable being addressed by their first name in an email.  Other nonprofits leave off the “Dear Curtis” and any signature at all and simply write the message, recognizing the need and expectation that this is a casual mode of communication.

A disturbing trend these days is the automation of so many email systems to the point that the [From] name is listed as [].  (click to enlarge) Nothing screams “form letter” louder than this!  Not only has this sender name guaranteed a lower open and readership rate, but regardless of how much effort you have put into carefully crafting your personal message, many recipients will have concluded that your organization doesn’t really care, since it couldn’t bother to have an actual person send it . . . or receive a reply.  Nearly the same conclusion is reached for the similar email sent by one person, who opens with “From the desk of [important person].”  This translates as, “You weren’t significant enough for me to take the time to write to you myself, but won’t you send us money?”

Brevity is essential.  Indeed, tweets and texting make emails look too lengthy these days, so get to the point as quickly as possible.  Embedded links are ideal for providing additional documentation, videos, registration forms, etc., but yammering on is the quickest way to drive a recipient to the [delete] button.

For an enewsletter, not only are more of your articles likely to get read if each of them has a short summary, followed by a link to read it in full, but your analytics will then show which of the articles was more often read in full.  If each article is completely written out, the amount of scrolling required to get the final few will result in them being read less often, due to positioning rather than content, leaving you with tainted data.

When embedding hyperlinks in various email communications, take care to link significant text, rather than something obvious yet meaningless, such as “click here.”  Soon, your entire email can become riddled with them, rendering it more confusing than helpful.

Using photos in emails can help to sell your point even further, but don’t assume that everyone can view the pictures you’ve inserted.  To make sure that both sets of recipients receive your overall message, be certain that photos are only part of the message rather than the entire email.  Also, since many people view emails in a preview pane, test yours prior to sending:  Can you see any text in the preview pane, without opening it entirely?  Another important precaution when using pictures is to place text behind the picture, so that it will appear when the photo doesn’t.

Many organizations are tracking how many visitors come to their site via mobile and creating a different layout that adjusts for that viewing.  How does your email look when viewed on a handheld device?  Is it any better when in a landscape position?  Do you test sending and receiving emails to different email clients and devices prior to sending?

Would you change your text, links or [Donate] button if you viewed your email on a handheld?

Another way to help ensure deliverability is to check your spam score.  Certain words – and even punctuation – used in the body of the email, or subject line, will increase your score and get your message deleted from various filters.  Test your message first for any red flags and boost your number of emails received.

Finally, keep your subscription list as accurate as possible (and in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act) by adding a footer to each and every email that asks the recipient about the validity of their subscription.  Go a step further than providing an [unsubscribe] link, however, and you’ll retain more people than you otherwise would.

Too many nonprofits only offer [unsubscribe] as an option and don’t consider the portion of their constituency that are changing jobs, or simply wish to receive messages at a different email address.  The better option to offer is [update my subscription].

When the constituent selects this option, s/he can choose [unsubscribe], but if they simply wish to change to a different email, this can still be done in one step.  If your form collects additional information, such as title, phone, etc., this can also be done in the same place.  Later, if your organization sends multiple newsletters or communications, the subscription form can be segmented:  Perhaps I wish to subscribe to the food pantry enewsletter, but not the “Meals on Wheels” enewsletter, and I also want to mark myself “Do Not Solicit by phone.”

If I can do this and update my email in one step, I’m more likely to provide my preferences and stay connected.  On the other hand, if I only have the option of [unsubscribe] with this email, then I have to go the home page and sign up all over again with a new email and enter my various preferences . . . I’m more likely to remove myself altogether and be done with it.

When viewing details such as these, it becomes clearer how paying more attention – or not – to individuals’ needs and preferences can make a significant difference with email marketing.  Some studies have said that email doesn’t yet have the return that direct mail does, but I would counter that most nonprofits spend much more time and effort, catering to the specific demands of the donor when soliciting by mail.

I daresay that when the same painstaking detail is invested into email campaigns, as well as follow through, we will see the industry as a whole yield a significant rise in email income and overall engagement.


Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Where does that link go?

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Whenever something – such as social media – become successful “enough,” you can be sure that the snake oil salespeople are quick to follow.  In the cyber-world, we call them spammers.  Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. are by no means immune to people trying to sell all sorts of junk…or possibly have you link to a site that might cause real harm to your computer.

Because of character limits, nearly everyone is using URL shorteners these days, leaving people to wonder where, exactly that link will take them.

If you’re uncertain of the source, you can paste the link into a URL decoder first, and see what the entire link is…then decide if you want to click it.  Try it at and test it on a shorter link I made of a map, telling people where the monthly AFP-MD Annual Giving Roundtable meets: It will tell you that the source is cty.jhu etc.


Keep the base of the pyramid strong

Selecting your next mentor

Friday, July 31st, 2009

An important part of growing your career is networking, but another side of networking can be mentoring.  Here’s a good article on how to go about planning for and selecting a mentor to help you in your career.

And…don’t forget to return the favor by being a mentor to others along the way.  That can be rewarding as well.  AFP-MD has a mentoring program in place, so if you don’t have someone specific in mind, one of the membership benefits of AFP is that you can fill out a Mentors Program application online.


Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Chronicle of Philanthropy Article

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I didn’t realize yesterday that the link I sent about the Chronicle of Philanthropy article profiling the success of AFP-MD’s networking, etc. in our roundtables was restricted only to those who have subscription accounts.

In case you couldn’t log in to see the the full article, I’ve pasted it below.

— Valerie

Starting a Fund-Raising Roundtable: Tips From Charity Veterans

By Caroline Preston

Fund raising has long been known as a stressful profession, and the recession is making life even more difficult for people charged with bringing in donations. But some development officials say they have fought burnout by getting together for regular “round table” meetings with peers.

A group of fund raisers who work at small charities in Baltimore, for example, meet each month to exchange fund-raising strategies and advice.

Among fund raisers’ tips for starting and maintaining a round table:

Consider contacting nonprofit associations. Some local chapters of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals, as well as other state groups such as the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations, run round tables or have suggestions for how to start them. And if such associations don’t already coordinate round tables, they might be interested in starting them.

Begin with a small group. “Invite five or six people who you know and ask if you want to get together for coffee so you have a core group to start,” recommends Tami Lack, director of development with Third Way Center, in Denver, and vice president of marketing for the board of the Colorado Association of Fundraising Professionals chapter. Says Jennifer Pelton, director of development at the Public Justice Center, in Baltimore: “Start small but with a good vision.”

Be flexible. If one approach isn’t working and there’s little interest from fund raisers, try another, says Ms. Pelton. “Be willing to experiment and be innovative,” she says. Ms. Lack agrees: Her group first tried networking events, forums, and happy hours before deciding that breakfast meetings were the best format.

Stay consistent with schedule. Once you’ve settled on a format, don’t mess with the schedule too much, fund raisers recommend. A group of annual-giving fund raisers, for example, meets every month at a room on the Johns Hopkins University campus, where one of its members works.

Mix formal and informal. Meetings often focus on a specific topic, such as using social media to raise money. But fund raisers try to leave an opportunity to discuss other subjects. Ms. Lack says her group saves 30 minutes of each hour-and-a-half meeting to talk about whatever is on peoples’ minds.

Listen to others. The topic of meetings should be decided by the group, not by one individual, fund raisers say.

Share leadership. Ms. Pelton, one of several founders of the meeting of “small shop” fund raisers in Baltimore, says her group rotates who leads each session. “We haven’t gotten stuck with one person’s style or one person’s agenda,” she says.

Build an online community. Fund raisers recommend setting up an e-mail list or a group on a site such as Yahoo to complement the in-person meetings. That gives people an opportunity to stay in touch and continue discussions outside of the monthly gatherings.

Bring props. Valerie Lambert, assistant director of development at the Center for Talented Youth at the Johns Hopkins University and the coordinator of round tables for the Maryland AFP chapter, suggests bringing books, articles, and other materials to get the conversation started, especially when it’s on a sensitive topic such as negotiating higher pay.

Pay attention to people’s needs. Some round tables focus on a specific type of fund raiser ­ people who work in annual giving, for example ­ while others are open to all development officials. People involved with round tables say the approach will differ based on the size of the community and the interests of people who want to join.

Build trust. Ms. Pelton’s group has a “whatever’s said here, stays here” approach to meetings. She says that’s key to making people feel comfortable about sharing their ideas and concerns. “No question is a dumb question,” she says, “and no question is too big and no question is too small.”

Copyright © 2009 The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Going green as a status symbol

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

This article ties together quite nicely the last two Roundtable topics:  Going Green and the status implied that might compel people to join Donor Clubs or Giving Circles.  Apparently, going green can be quite the status symbol nowadays.

One of the most compelling parts of the article to me:  As several studies have shown, altruistic people achieve higher status, and are much more likely to behave altruistically in situations where their actions are public than when they will go unnoticed.


Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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