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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 [NoReply@nonprofit.org].  (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.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Make Donating To Your Cause Easy and Meaningful

Why Recurring Giving Is So Important

The Right Corporate Sponsor Can Be Beneficial

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Bringing on corporate sponsors in new and creative ways is being suggested more frequently these days, as non profits are experiencing budget shortfalls that they haven’t seen before.  While we all want to have fiscal support, it is important to keep in mind several factors before deciding to enter into a partnership with a company:

Is the company a good fit with your organization?  Does the corporation represent a product/mission related to what your organization stands for, or is trying to accomplish?

Is the campaign itself mission-related?  You have X points of contact per year with your constituents.  If/when you ask them to act on your behalf, it’s important that you make it count – related to your organization, meaningful to your mission.

Too often, companies attempt to portray themselves as philanthropic simply by throwing (usually relatively little) funds in the direction of charities, yet the non profits are required to do the lion’s share of the work, retain very little of the profit . . . and often, hand over their constituents’ contact list that they have worked for years to cultivate as well.

This only seems like a good deal to cash-strapped organizations who feel they have little alternative but to agree to nearly any terms for the extra income, but it is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

It is better to cultivate your donors with consistent messaging about why they should support your mission of ending illiteracy, feeding the homeless, combating domestic violence, etc., instead of asking them to switch long distance carriers or click on your website’s Amazon button, and so forth, so that you can earn Y% of that purchase.

Some examples of corporate partnerships gone sour:

Chase Community Giving Contest – One of the largest social media contests, which awarded over $1,000,000 in prizes to non profits; however, it was riddled with scandal.  In order to vote on Facebook, you had to offer all of your contacts’ data.  Many questionable/counterfeit users were created and voted, tainting results.  In addition, several finalist organizations were eliminated during the last days, due to Chase’s not wanting to be associated with their missions.

Public schools have been experiencing this desperation far longer than typical non profits.  Although the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood successfully won a several year battle against BusRadio, they are now tackling a pitch to air television on school buses.  CCFC also reports on public schools that allow churches to preach, and gun shop owners and fast food companies to market to school families in exchange for various sponsorships.  This phenomenon was even highlighted – and mocked – years ago by a then popular tv show.  Most parties agree that children shouldn’t be bombarded, but others feel that what is happening in schools is an indicator of a trend of things to come in other areas of society.

When the donation becomes transactional and the transaction is gone, so is the donation.  While working at PBS, I witnessed a transformation in the average gift during pledge drive:  It climbed from the high double digits to triple digits while Suze Orman specials were on the air, due to her premiums being pitched.  Donors gave higher gift amounts not out of loyalty to public broadcasting, but because they wanted the Suze Orman DVD or CD that was being emphasized.  A few years later, Suze signed with QVC and left PBS.  When she did, the average pledge once again dropped below $100.  The correlation was undeniable.  People were selling Suze merchandise on the air, rather than the mission of public broadcasting and loyalty to PBS, and it cost us dearly.

Of course there are ways to strike a balance and enter into corporate partnerships that benefit both parties, but it is always important to keep your long term goals and big picture in mind:  What does your organization stand for, and how do you want it represented?

There are also new definitions of Social Business being created.  Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize winner and author of Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs, looks at ways businesses can better serve society and operate neither at a loss nor a profit, but reinvest profits back into the company.  Monday, June 28th is Social Business Day.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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