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Posts Tagged ‘SpamCheck’

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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What’s The Bottom Line?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

With people’s lives getting busier, it’s imperative that we communicate as clearly and concisely as possible, if we are to reach them at all.  When you contact donors – especially via email – remember this and be brief and to the point.

Another factor to consider with people’s hectic schedules is that they often don’t have time to read all of their messages, brief or not.  For year-end giving, studies have shown that several, short emails over the final month or two of the year can serve to be successful reminders.  For those who read them all, the repetition is more effective, and for those who may not have read everything, the market penetration is increased.  Because each message was deliberately concise, most people did not feel overwhelmed or annoyed at the recurrence.

When a recipient reads an email, they must know who is writing, what they have to say/offer, what (if anything) they want, and how the respondent can act – immediately!  If there is any confusion or delay, the reader has moved on or deleted the message.  Worse than that, if s/he feels deceived, they will unsubscribe or hit the SPAM button.  Clarity is essential.

Just as recipients open direct mail over the trash can, always realize that email is being opened with a finger on the [delete] button.  You have a few seconds to escape oblivion and get your message viewed.  It helps to make a concerted effort to place yourself in the constituent’s perspective.

For example, most frequently, the subject line is composed last and the least amount of effort is given to this bit of writing, when it is actually the most crucial piece of editing.  The subject is the first thing the recipient sees when deciding whether or not to open the email.  It’s advisable to test various subject lines with different segments of your email list, since you can then determine which ones yield a better open rate.

Also consider what name and/or email address you use to send your message.  Too many organizations pay little attention to this detail, and send messages from [noreply@company.org] or other impersonal addresses. Just as with direct mail, obvious form letters have a much lower yield versus something with a personal touch.

For year-end messages, no doubt you are asking constituents to contribute, but be sure to give them a reason to give.  Tell them a (short) story about who will be helped, affected, influenced, etc. by their gift, and/or has been in the past.  If they can’t feel that their gift will have an impact, why bother?

Specific suggested ask amounts in the email should help boost your overall average gift.  Also make certain that your [donate] button in the email correlates to an online giving form that has the same ask amounts listed on the email.  You don’t want to undercut one with the other – or make your campaign look inconsistent.

Create a separate online giving form(s) for your email campaign, that is distinct from your website’s [Donate Now] eform, so that you can track the statistics, measuring the success of each appeal(s) independently.

Speaking of testing, there are several things you should test on your email message prior to sending it out:  Test your overall message text deliverability by checking your spam score.  It’s also important to send your email to several different email clients, such as AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, etc. to see how it is received, formatted, etc. – both in HTML and only in text.  Something that many people don’t consider is testing to see how their emails will read when received on various handheld devices.  Again, viewing should be in both HTML and text, particularly because many handhelds don’t display all HTML visuals.

One great way to tell a compelling story is through video, and many email campaigns are now adding video components to their appeals.  If your organization chooses to do this, consider getting a YouTube Nonprofit Account, which will allow you to embed a (donation) link within your video.  (You don’t want people to see your wonderful, heartwarming story, and then have no means to act! Neither do you want to require them to take 3 – 4 additional steps, searching for your donation page!)

Take a crucial look, through your donors’ eyes, at what you’re offering and how appealing, how long, how much, etc. you are asking them to do.  Can you improve, redesign, reduce this process by several steps, sentences, or other means?

Each task you take on means less work for your recipient.  Further time spent tracking and testing your modifications will help you know what works best at your organization.  When constituents have so many choices about where to spend their time and money, it is a wise investment for organizations to streamline their processes so that the simplest, fastest and most convenient choice becomes obvious to the donor.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

Which Online Giving Software Is Best?

Monday, August 9th, 2010

I’ve been asked this question so frequently lately, I figured it warrants a blog post.  Certainly it was one of the questions most often posed to me recently after I taught a session on How To Incorporate Online Giving Into Your Annual Fund . . . And Track It, in which I presented various good (and not so great) examples of calls to action, web design, eforms, etc.

So, when shopping for online giving software, what should you look for?  What IS the best buy, the most important features?  Like anything else, it depends (moan!), and there are quite a few good ones, but there are several factors to consider:
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Shop Around

No matter what, get several bids from several different vendors.  You should compare at least three different vendors’ features and prices.  Although Vendor #2 might bring up a matter that you hadn’t thought to ask when speaking with Vendor #1, try to keep this to a minimum by having as many questions prepared ahead of time for all of them.  (And by all means, call Vendor #1 back and ask them that question!)
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Do Your Homework

Don’t just prepare your list of questions, but bring everyone’s to the table, and ideally have a member of each department who will touch this software present at the vendor meeting.  A topic may come up that you either hadn’t considered, or simply don’t have the day-to-day knowledge to ask a directed question about, but another staff member might.  (Do you understand all the steps involved in processing a complex [e.g. in honor of three people] gift acknowledgment?  If not, bring the person who does to the meeting.)
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Think Ahead

If you were purchasing a database for all of your 10,000 constituent records, you wouldn’t buy software that handles databases in the 5K – 10K range.  You are planning to grow and want software that can grow with you.  It is no different with your online giving program.

Right now, you may merely want to send a basic text email and have a very simple eform landing page that collects a few fields and sends a thank you, but it won’t always be that way.  Can the vendor grow with your needs?  What about a year or two (or less) from now, when you want to add HTML, photos or videos . . . or just graphic links to your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages?  What about when you want to send a quarterly enewsletter and have it with a template design?

The last thing you want your vendor to respond with is, “Ohhhhh . . . I’m sorry, but we don’t offer that” if that is where you see your organization headed.  This leaves you either at a standstill, or in the same position of shopping around yet again for another vendor.  Consider this additional cost when looking at what options are available and what you project your organization doing over the next several years.  Converting means additional time for moving data and staff training.  All this time is money, and every conversion loses some amount of data.

Because shopping and converting to a different system is a great deal of trouble, most organizations won’t bother; therefore, some companies may offer a first year incentive or signing discount.  Make certain it’s worth it in the long run to your overall strategy.
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Start Slowly, But Start

By start I don’t just mean “start an online giving program,” but if you already have one, then start expanding that program.  Try something new, such as adding more hyperlinks that drive traffic to your website, Facebook page, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

Be versatile and realize there are a variety of screens that are reading emails these days.  Not everyone is sitting at a desktop computer – many more users get their electronic communication from a handheld.  Even if they don’t, some images are blocked, while others images are not.  Are you placing text behind those images . . . or are your viewers seeing a lot of red X’s?  Provide as many options as possible, so that no matter what your recipients are using, they can receive, understand and respond to your message.

You can also increase your deliverability by first checking your email message’s spam score through a spam filter such as SpamCheck or Gravity Mail.
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Track!

Knowing what works well in the industry is a good start, but you have to adapt this to what works well with your constituent base.  There also may be subsets of your population that respond differently, based on geography, age, gender, giving history, or other demographics.

Examine your web traffic with Google Analytics – a free tool that can provide some good insight – so that you are providing what your constituents want, rather than what you believe they want.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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