Bliou Enterprises


Posts Tagged ‘e-mail marketing’

This is a Test, This is Only a Test

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Network For Good has dubbed today the first Be Your Donor Day.  It’s a fabulous idea, designed to get nonprofits to test their online giving forms to see how easy – or cumbersome – their process is.  Why stop there, though?

What other aspects of donor interaction could be improved, if only we could get a look at it through our donor’s eyes?

Vanna* is a development officer who wanted to test this theory, so she made an online donation to her organization . . . using her husband’s credit card, during last year’s holiday season.  She wanted to test the data processing department’s speed and accuracy in entering and acknowledging the gift when things were very busy.

“My husband’s last name is different than mine,” Vanna explained, “And, although I entered myself as the joint donor, I thought that this gift might be lost in the shuffle along with many, many others.”

More time went by than Vanna thought should have, and “her husband” still hadn’t received an acknowledgment, so she decided to check in the database, wondering if it had even been entered.  She was surprised to still find nothing under her husband’s name.

“Then, I thought: ‘Perhaps someone did notice my name and gave me some sort of special treatment after all?’” Vanna recounted.  “I checked under my name, and not only was the gift there, but had been for days!  The problem was that it was credited not to my husband, but some other man entirely . . . living in a different state!  Talk about your data entry mistakes!”

It turned out that Vanna’s “false husband” had an ID number close to that of her real husband, and the transaction opened up dialogue for better verification procedures in the processing department, particularly during peak times.

Wyatt* did something similar, but instead of using a spouse’s or child’s name, opted to submit his dead grandfather’s name for mail, email and phonathon lists.  The name was entirely different, and he maintained a separate email account, where he could receive messages for “him.”  It was his way of not only monitoring what his nonprofit was doing, but other nonprofits as well, since he subscribed “grandpa” to multiple lists.

Wyatt was pleasantly surprised when his new mailing went out to discover that his new mail vendor had done a diligent job of running his list through the NCOA database prior to sending it out.  It was obviously a cut above what his previous vendors had done, because “grandpa’s” mail had been returned, marked as nobody living at that address with that name!

“I can’t tell you how many, many pieces ‘grandpa’ has gotten at my address, from dozens of nonprofits!” Wyatt said.  He plans on staying with this new mail vendor.

Checking your website for mobile-friendliness is advisable, too.  Have you tried to make an online donation using your handheld?  Does that ramp up the level of difficulty?  What about other transactions on your site?  How much interaction do you ask of your constituents online?  Registering for events?  Purchasing items?  Signing petitions?

Whenever you are telling constituents to “Go to our website and [take this action]!” try to take that action with your mobile – and encourage the person responsible for that department to do it as well.

The more departments that engage in this activity, the more buy-in you’ll have as an organization to convert your website to a mobile-friendly one!

What other donor/constituent engagement areas can you think of to test that staff rarely uses?

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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What Do You Do When a Major Funding Source Disappears?

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

For many fundraisers closing out their fiscal years, the news isn’t great.  Foundations and corporations are returning, but not quite as quickly as they departed – and not back to their previous levels.  And some not at all.

When a long-time supporter – especially a major one – suddenly stops giving, it can be quite a blow.  This has happened (and is continuing) to many nonprofits as the economy shrinks the accounts of not only companies and foundations, but individual large donors as well.

“Not putting your eggs in one basket” takes on multiple meanings in development in times like these.  In addition to having a diversified campaign that seeks donations from a plethora of contributors – foundations, corporations, individuals, etc. – it’s also important within each campaign to conduct multiple campaigns.

For example, when pursuing foundations, expand your grant proposals to various types, including smaller family foundations, corporate foundations, etc.  Don’t limit yourself to the same kinds that have always funded you in the past.

Corporate sponsorships can be viewed in a similar fashion.  Have you always pursued national companies’ support?  There are many locally owned businesses that might welcome an opportunity to publicize their philanthropy.

With Annual Giving, think of the multiple channels that are now at your disposal to reach a vast audience of individuals.  Not only can you pursue more people with online giving, social media, mobile, etc., but studies show that integrated approaches raise the most money of all.

Consider the United Way campaign(s) and how they are affecting dozens (if not more) nonprofits across the entire country.  Because United Way decided at a national level to reprioritize its mission and refocus on several core funding strategies, agencies that received enormous amounts of funding are now finding it vastly reduced, if not eliminated outright.

This is happening all across the United States, including California, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and in Ontario as well.

While some articles are spun to promote it as a positive opportunity to “let new organizations apply” for funding, many others who have been supported by United Way for years don’t see it that way . . . particularly when their messaging appears to be inconsistent.

For example, their new mission’s focus loudly proclaims to be generally zoned in on three main areas:

•     education
•     self-sufficiency
•     health

Although these are the newly declared areas of funding targets, various inconsistencies in this newly mandated attempt at being consistent continue to appear.

In multiple states (CA, LA, OH, NC, VA), the local Red Cross chapters had their funding significantly cut, if not eliminated, although many tried to argue that their providing food, shelter, clothing, etc., during disasters offers “self-sufficiency,” in keeping with the mission.  In the Buffalo, NY area, that United Way chapter maintained their Red Cross funding, but eliminated funds for the Girl Scouts . . . even though educating youth is supposedly a priority.

Other organizations affected by the new policy, resulting in drastic cuts in funding include the Salvation Army, the YMCA, as well as the Boy Scouts and Big Brothers Big Sisters, which lost their funding entirely from United Way of Dallas.  Given that the new UW priorities are listed as being about educating children, it’s perplexing that these long-funded institutions were dropped altogether, particularly when one sees that another United Way chapter in Illinois gave Big Brothers Big Sisters their highest award.

Although “youth development” is specifically listed among United Way of Topeka’s goals, Boy and Girl Scouts were eliminated from agencies receiving funding!  They got only designated funds from donors . . . and these designated funds are “a practice that is under review and could be eliminated in the future because of changes to United Way’s funding process.”

Columbia, MO and Charleston, SC took issue with the new priorities not addressing issues of real concern to their local communities.  Namely, they felt that their senior population was being severely neglected and ignored by the newly declared priorities.  These citizens argued that a great deal of what the local United Way needed to address and solve were the problems of the local citizens . . . and that the issues sent from national weren’t keenly aware of what was happening in their neighborhoods.

One can see that the Reno, NV and Norman, OK chapters dealt with this more directly, anticipating these needs, and altered the mission to include more local concerns.

While in York, PA, the United Way Executive Director was “flabbergasted” that an agency would make public their disappointment over not getting funded, it seems to be catching on all over the country.  In fact, in Nebraska and Ohio, they’re appealing the funding decisions, and in Ontario, they’re convening a meeting to review the entire allocation procedure!

It’s clear that you can’t control many factors about your funding sources:  the economy, funders’ changing priorities, how slow the post office delivers, cost of postage, etc.  Rather than spending a great deal of time altering an ever-changing strategy (and filing multiple appeals), a better overall campaign strategy is one that includes multiple funding sources, so that if one of them is drastically reduced, it doesn’t sting too badly during the period it takes to replace it with another channel of income.

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Please Listen To All of the Following Options…

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

While technology has made many aspects of our lives easier, one only need hear a voice mail menu to know it isn’t always beneficial.  Forcing someone to listen to endless recorded options truly renders customer service a contradiction in terms.

Many email marketing strategies are set up in a similar fashion as well:  Rather than considering what is best and most efficient for the customer, the company constructs all parameters from its perspective, putting much more work on the shoulders of the customer.  (“…if you want to speak to someone directly, wait on the line…”)

To begin with, care must be taken not only with the subject line, but also with the sender name.  Some nonprofits still opt for using strictly an organizational name, while others choose to add a more personal touch and include an individual’s name along with the organization.  Being generic is less advisable if you want to get your email opened.

Upon further investigation, however, we see that the “name” attached to an email may not reflect the true identity found in the actual email address.  If someone reading the message chose to hit the [Reply] button, often times, they find themselves relegated to a generic mailing list or information box.  Too often these days, one is even incapable of replying to the communication sent, since embedded in the address itself is some form of the text, “do-not-reply.”

In today’s world of social media where two-way communication is the expected norm, addressing an email from a “do not reply” sender is tantamount to saying, “If you have something to tell me, I really don’t care . . . It’s my way or the highway.”

Adding photos to your email is a nice touch, but consider how your message will be viewed by screens that can’t see pictures, or otherwise block images.  Also keep in mind that various screens are looking at your email.  How does it look in a preview pane?  On a pad?  On a handheld?  Be sure you test several versions, and have text embedded behind your photos.

In addition to making emails more inviting to open and reply to, other mechanics that many nonprofits often fail to consider is updating a subscription.  It’s shortsighted to offer only the option of unsubscribing to the organization’s email.

Tiffany* had been subscribing to various trade publications at her office, but they got to be too many and interfered with her ability to see her work emails in a timely fashion.  She decided to create a separate email account, designated just for these subscriptions and move them over to that.

What she discovered was that it was very difficult, in most cases, to change her email subscriptions.  In most cases, they didn’t offer an update option – only unsubscribe.  If she wanted to receive all of the same publications in her new email account, she’d have to unsubscribe from each of them, then open a web browser, find the company, and subscribe all over again with the new email account . . . very often entering her name, company, etc. information as well!

This affected how many subscriptions Tiffany actually retained, and she dropped nearly half of them, keeping only the ones that she deemed were worth enduring the laborious process of resubscribing.  Had they simply given her a shorter process, incorporated within the current system, she most likely would have kept them all.

For your year-end email campaigns, when you take time to craft your message, consider the other components of the email as well.  The mechanics of how it is viewed – from beginning to end – help determine how well received it is, in addition to its content.

Everyone has a full email inbox these days, so the nonprofit that takes extra steps to tighten these loose ends will stand out in the crowd.

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Smart job seekers know that a long term approach is best these days when scoping out that next new position.  It’s no longer a matter of skimming listings, sending out a few resumes, interviewing, then choosing which offer to accept.

Although there is no “magic number,” most people consider themselves quite fortunate if their job search produces an offer within the first six months to a year in this economy.  This can vary greatly, of course, depending on many factors.

First of all, there is an enormous discrepancy in how much time and effort each person sincerely puts into their search on a weekly basis, not to mention who stays with it consistently, week after week.  It can be difficult to maintain persistence in the face of constant rejection, but those who do will see a payoff sooner.  People who network with others in their field also reap the benefits of being put in touch with hiring managers more frequently.  It’s well established that many positions are hired through word of mouth and recommendations from others in the field, so becoming visible and connected is an endeavor worth pursuing.

Since it’s clear that your job search will most likely take several months to a year, it’s worth approaching with a more strategic stance, rather than waiting for job listings to appear and merely being reactive all the time.  Select a dozen – or two! – companies that you would most like to work for, and start keeping tabs on them.  What can you learn about the culture of these companies over time?  Not only will you be more prepared for an interview later on, but you may learn a better way to rank them by preference, in terms of a hospitable, professional or competent workplace.

Once she had a successful initial phone interview, I advised Eileen* to join the company’s Facebook page and also start following them on Twitter, so she could keep up with their latest news.  She was pleased when she got called in for a face-to-face interview soon after.

Eileen thought that everyone seemed to like her and her skills during the interview, and she was hopeful about getting an offer.  Although some aspects of the interview did seem to be a bit more informal than she was used to, she knew that every company is different, and this one was younger and smaller than the one she’d be coming from.

The HR manager told Eileen that they found her to be very qualified, but that they hired someone else for the position.  He then went on to say that they would be hiring some other positions in the near future, and asked if they could keep her resume on file, because they felt that she might be the right fit for one of those instead.

Eileen was disappointed, of course, but also flattered.  While she wasn’t going to hold her breath, this was a polite rejection.  Many other companies hadn’t even bothered to call and tell her she didn’t get the job. She had also seen other positions listed on the company’s social media channels, so she did feel that it was possible.

Over the next several months, however, Eileen noticed that there were actually many, many positions listed for hire with this company – some of them were the same position listed just a few months apart!

“It’s one thing for the company to be younger and smaller,” Eileen said, “But it’s quite another to see the kind of turnover they were obviously having!”

Several months later, the company did contact Eileen for a similar position to the one she’d previously interviewed for.  She decided to Forget It! “I told them, ‘Thanks, but I’ve already found another job,’ even though I hadn’t yet.  I didn’t want to burn any bridges, but there was no way I was going to work someplace that was so clearly unstable!”

Freida* worked in nonprofit marketing, and in addition to advising her to subscribe to the social media channels of the organizations that she most wanted to work for, I also suggested that she set up a designated email account.  This email account had the sole purpose of subscribing to various emails sent by the same organizations.  (I proposed that she use an email name completely different from hers for this account; she borrowed her deceased uncle’s name.)

Since Freida had experience in email marketing as well, she could gauge over time which organizations sent out poor, average or excellent e-newsletters, petitions, solicitations, etc.  She made three folders in her account and filed all correspondence accordingly.  Sorting each folder by sender also let her see the kind of volume and frequency each nonprofit was sending, which told her even more about the sophistication of a marketing position at each organization.

This type of background research allowed Freida to Fix It! when she was trying to pin down which specific organizations to target and pursue most aggressively.  Although it took her nearly a year to get the interview and job offer she sought, she found a good match with not only the position and salary she wanted, but also the organization, mission, size and culture.  Very little of it came as a surprise to her, due to her combined networking and immersion in their various communication channels prior to being hired.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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

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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 [].  (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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